Some master shots from a Taiwanese masterWhat is it like for a country to fall under decades of foreign rule? And what is it like to have the first tastes of freedom replaced by an oppressive military regime? Korea knows, to be sure. And so, too, does Taiwan.
The Taiwanese director best known for trying to capture the emotional effects of that history on film is Hou Hsiao-hsien. A retrospective of his works runs at the Seoul Art Cinema until Friday.
Mr. Hou’s films are often set in post-colonial Taiwan, and always address the troubled history of his homeland.
With his talents often compared to the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wei, Mr. Hou creates films much more reflective than the hyperkinetic energy of Mr. Wong’s works.
One source of Mr. Hou’s style comes from his use of the “master shot,” a technique in which entire scenes are shot from one unflinching camera angle. Rather than creating emotional distance, this technique lends the events a greater universality, and also gives the viewer a chance to take in the scope of Mr. Hou’s breathtaking mise-en-scene.
This slowness of pace leads some critics to call his style “staid” (or, put bluntly, boring). But rather than the unchecked energy other directors employ, his meditative pieces cover the topics of war, love, aging and mortality with a remarkable stillness. Watching his films is like looking into the amber to see if traces are left of what we have lost.
In 1999, Mr. Hou was named best director of the 1990s in a Village Voice poll of more than 60 scholars and critics. Featured in the festival is Mr. Hou’s most recent film, “Millennium Mambo” (2001), as well as a chance to see some rare early selections.
Some festival highlights:
* “The Boys from Fengkuei” (1983) captures the innocence and resentments of youth as it tracks the coming-of-age of a group of restless teenagers from a Taiwanese seaside village. After enjoying the lazy days of summer, they choose to drop out of school and move to the big city to try to make it big, finding few opportunities along the way.
* “The Time to Live and the Time to Die” (1985), Mr. Hou’s most overtly autobiographical film, chronicles a family’s move from mainland China to Taiwan, displaced during the communist revolution. It witnesses the passing of a generation that faced extreme dislocation and alienation.
* “The Puppetmaster” (1993) follows a puppeteer who has appeared in several of Mr. Hou’s films, tracing his life from childhood to being forced to perform propagandist works under the Japanese occupation.
by Jason Zahorchak
All films except “Millennium Mambo” feature English subtitles. Tickets are 6,000 won ($5) and can be purchased at the door or online at www.maxmovie.com. The Seoul Art Cinema is in central Seoul, near Insa-dong. Take subway line No. 3 to Anguk Station, exit 1. Take a right out of the exit, turn right down the narrow road next to an old wall and follow it about 400 meters (440 yards) to the intersection.