Showing posts with label Hou Hsiao Hsien. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hou Hsiao Hsien. Show all posts

Monday, February 29, 2016

Notes on Nie Yin Niang (The Assassin), by Hou hsiao Hsien, Taiwan/China: 2015





The film is not only a journey into the past (the ninth. Century of China) but it is also for me a kind of travelling back in time. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Hou hsiao Hsien was among the living my favorite film director. I remember the screening of Beiqing Chengshi (A City Of Sadness) 1990 at the Berlinale-Forum, the traumatic screening of Hsimeng Rensheng (The Puppet master) 1993 at the Montreal World Film festival with the most horrible audience you can imagine for a film where some shots last up to 6 minutes which didn´t detain me from giving the most hysteric applause I ever gave to a film during a festival. I remember also a retrospective of Taiwanese cinema 1996 in a Berlin cinema called Filmkunst 66. The credits of Haonan, Haonu (Good Men, Good Women) were just rolling and the owner of the film theater switched the light on. Even though still with tears in my eyes (because this is for me the most emotional film by Hou) I shouted at him something like: “Let the light out you idiot!” The last film by Hou I was enthusiastic about was Kohi Jikou (Cafe Lumiere) this wonderful homage to Yasujiro Ozu. His Zui Hao de shi guang (Three Times) left me cold even though the first two episodes belong to the finest things Hou ever did and this film is an excellent introduction to the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien. Le Voyage de Ballon Rouge from 2007 was really the only film by Hou Hsiao Hsien which disappointed me and it was for 8 years the last long feature by Hou. Since 2006 my cinephile life turned from a Hou dominated era to a Malick-dominated era and just recently I saw Nie Yin Niang, a period film with Martial arts elements, Hou´s most expensive film with a long and difficult time of production. Interestingly Hou´s studies on Taiwanese history in his great trilogy, his autobiographical masterpiece Tong Nien Wang shi (A Time To Live and time to die) or in Hai Shang Hua (The Flowers Of Shanghai) went always with a search for his own definition of cinema and finally with the cultivation of his unique style.
A period film is in fact nothing which should surprise us if it comes from Hou Hsiao Hsien, because most of his finest films were period films even though much less engrossed through time.
What Hsimeng Rensheng (which begins almost with the the time when cinema was born) already foreclosed especially with a remarkable lightning of interiors, what he continued in the second episode of Zui Hao de shi guang, a silent film leads finally to the lightning in Nie Yin Niang. In the cinema of the West, we learned from Stanley Kubrick´s Barry Lyndon and Terrence Malick´s The New World that the light can be a key to approach a cinematic reconstruction of a far distant epoch of history and it is astonishing that more than 25 years after this daring and experiment with light John Ford did with She Wore A Yellow Ribbon this brave approach was not continued before Barry Lyndon.

Even though Nie Yin Niang begins with sequences in Black and White (most of the film is shot in a format very close to the Academy format excerpt one single scene appears in the 1,85 Format), the film is first of all an excellent colour film with Red, Yellow and Gold tones I haven´t seen for quite a while.
One of the many currents which can be seen in Hou´s work is the dynamic between people who are suffering under history but who are also observing and analyzing what history has made of them. The chronicler in Beiqing Chengshi, Haonan, Haonu, Nilzohe Nuer (Daughter Of The Nile) are women, the real puppetmaster Li Tien Lu in Hsimeng Rensheng appears in documentary moments side by side with Hou´s staged scenes from the pippeteer´s biography. Annie Shizuka-Inoh in her double role in Haonan, Haonu plays Chiang Bi-yu, a resistance fighter against the Japanese who invaded China but also an actress from the present who prepares herself for playing in a mysterious film this very Chiang Bi-yu.
Nie Yinniang in Nie Yin Niang is a full skilled assassin, exiled as a child and trained by nuns as a martial arts fighter is one of these protagonists in Hou´s work who suffer under history but who also begins to analyze it and who finally makes decisions against the direction of her so-called predestined fate. At the beginning we see her fulfilling an order to kill a man. There is hardly any expression on the face of Shu Qi, this actress who worked with Hou Hsiao Hsien since 2001. At the beginning she appears in a black robe as the perfect killer machine and there is no sign of any emotion on her face. Much later when she learns from the nuns more about her history she cries. That will be the only time when we see an emotional reaction from her. What she finally thinks and feels, the film offers only very small hints for that. It is a bit like a historian who knows a lot about historical events but naturally very few about individual biographies. Even though Hou prefers extremely long shots, his narration became since Beiqing Chengshi more and more fragmental. Often he isolates one scene from the other through slow fading outs. He stresses the attention of the audience but finally rewards them with a certain kind of beauty which made him to a singularity in contemporary Chinese cinema. No reason to panic if you feel a bit or even very disoriented at the beginning. Piece by piece a comprehensive understanding will follow. The beauty of this film is encrypted and you have to do a lot to find your orientation and finally you realize that it was worth it. Yin Niang gets a final order, to kill a man she once loved as a young girl, the reason for this assassination is political and for fulfilling this order she has to be this functional perfect killer. First she observes her victim and we, the audience with her. There are incredible long shots where we see the man she is supposed to kill behind thin and almost transparent curtains in the diffuse light of candles and oil lamps. A lot of the scenes, especially when we see powerful people spin their intrigues take place in closed interiors. The open air scenes always are like a release from these muggy interiors.
Like always in Hou´s films there is an exciting dynamic between movement and statics. The few but very precise dosed martial art scenes, a well choreographed dance in the palace or people who are walking through the landscape and than sometimes extremely slow moments where almost nothing moves, people who are almost frozen in their movements, landscapes where you have to look twice to recognize the movement of the water. Sometimes only the wind which goes through the trees is the only evidence of movement.

To watch a film by Hou Hsiao Hsien is very often like watching the elements of which cinema consists are coming together. We can be sure that Hou like Kubrick for Barry Lyndon studied a lot of paintings from or about the epoch the film is dealing with. But it goes far beyond just reproducing old paintings, it gives for moments the uncanny hint of visual culture of a far distant time centuries before you could get an image about nearly everything, if in cinema, television or Internet. In these films like Nie Yin Niang, Barry Lyndon and of course The New World, the cinematic apparatus is first of all an artificial time machine. The time revealed in front of our eyes might be strange and very engrossed but for some moments and especially in this strangeness we have a key to an epoch lost in time.

What we learn about the protagonists and especially about this female assassin remains fragmental. Moments of rising empathy will disappear at the end. We get glimpses of things and people which do not exist anymore.

At the end, Yin Niang finally decides not to kill the man she once loved and leaves for a new chapter in her life, the perfect functioning killer who is discovering her own humanity goes her own way.
As a matter of fact, some of Hou´s final shots are in themselves pure cinematic masterpieces, the ending scene of Beiqing Chengshi, Hsimeng Rensheng, Haonan, Haonu and now in Nie Yin Niang. Hou has an extraordinary sense how to leave a film, a sense for the transition of the things he reveals in his films and our reality outside the screening his films. In Nie Yin Niang we see a group of people on their departure, including Ying Niang. We hear already a mesmerizing music and the picture lasts for a small eternity until the landscape is totally deserted by any person, than the first credits and finally the and the black of the final credits. appears. The last moments of a film by Hou Hsiao Hsien are probably some of the most ceremonially moments cinema has to offer. These moments when the fiction totally disappears, we are alone with the monstrous beauty of this film and paradoxically and despite we often like to categorize Hou as a minimalist these last moments have always an uncanny impact on me. One thing for sure, Hou Hsiao Hsien is back with his finest film since Kohi Jikou.

Rüdiger Tomczak



Friday, October 7, 2011

Beiqing Chengshi - A CITY OF SADNESS

 

A CITY OF SADNESS


 by Hou Hsiao Hsien
translation of an article from JOURNAL FILM (July 1991), Freiburg (Germany)

I.
The titles: simple dark background, light signs. From the off, we hear the speech of capitulation by the japanese emperor. A turn up like the light at the end of the tunnel in LIEN LIEN FUNG CHEN (Love, dust, wind). The first picture appears like a photograph which is going to be visible in the developing fluid. A corpulent man (Wenxiong, the oldest of four brothers of a taiwanese family), who prays and burns smoking sticks. Weak light. In another part of this house a woman who gives birth to a child with cries of pain. Parts of different dialogues, the noisy walking of Wenxiong. At one time the electricity comes back , a lamp is switched on. With almost ritual precision, Wenxiong enfolds folds the lampshade and leaves the frame. The lamp and a part of the room - deserted. From outside of the frame we listen the confusion of different voices. and again the cries of the woman, which disappears into an electronic roar, that seems to come from far away of space and time of this film. Then the second part of the opening titles: symphonic synthesizer music, the break between the time of the plot (the first years after the second world war) and the time of a cinema of the Nineties. You can call it the sound of the time machine cinema, which carries us in time and space from the present and brings us back to it.

II.
The family Lin during preparing of a party. Wenliang, the third brother´s return from the war is expected. A view into a room, additional narrowed through interiors. In the narrowed cadrage the busy activities of the persons, the father who burns sacred money, the woman, who are managing the household. Parts of conversation, which consist them like in a puzzle to informations. Often, the persons leave the cadrage an enter again, from the small visible part of the room into the one of imagination. III. In the longest shots of the film, the camera remains invariably an observant view from a distant angle. Persons who eat, drink and talk, Scenes which constrains the dramatic subject. The passing by of the men and the things conserved in little eternities of about three minutes long plansequences. At the beginning of the film, there is a meeting of intellectuals in a bar. Sometime they begin singing a nostalgic song. Someone opens the window in the background of the middle of the picture: a blue quadrat , in which the view can escape in the deep of the frame to the outside. The liberation of the view out of the imprison of a limited room. No information that one of the persons Hinoe will play an important role in the film. A cut, which does not interrupt the soundtrack, to a mountain landscape occupied with lines, like a railway net. The montage, which does no build the meaning, but offers possibilities to make links in your own head.

IV.
The corridor of a hospital. The screen is narrowed through walls and columns, double framed which makes the room smaller than the half of the film format, in which the acteurs are moving. The view is again to escape until the entrance gate of the hospital, where daylight and green plants promise the freedom. This image returns more times in the film varied, perhaps in the same composition. Once, after the first bloody confrontations, this narrowed frame is crowed by doctors and nurses, who treat and carry injured people. The world seems to be reduced on this little peace of space. It is night.
No light at the end of the tunnel.

V.
Opposition members meet in the flat of Wenqing, the youngest of the four brothers. He is deaf since his childhood. While the others are talking, Wenqing and the nurse Hinomi are sitting close to each other. Even though in the same room with the discussing opposition members, just centimeters from their table dominates for a moment the story of this couple. From an recordplayer comes the “Loreley” song "I don´t know, what shall it mean". The communication between both is limited in the exchange of little written papers, which appear on the screen as long titles like references to the silent film age. In writing, Hinome explains the deaf the story of the Loreley-saga. An intimate scene of a beginning love story, which asks the same attention like the information about the Killing in the confrontation between the KMT-government and the underground movement and the civil population. In a time of violence and terror, long lyric sequences like little islands, where you can escape sometimes.

VI. 
The variability of languages - Mandarin, different chinese dialects, taiwanese and japanese - is at the same time a crisis of communication. The subtitles are not only useful for Europeans. On the other hand: Inserts, titles or spoken letters and diaries as voice over. The women, almost without any power are the real chroniclers. The propagandistic radios peeches of the government, are confronted with the personal reflexions of the women, especially of Hinomis. The public history and the history of persons whose voices will be disappear from the history books. The spoken and written language as a chaos or as as effort to make meaning. Language which reaches it´s limitations and which finds on nonverbal levels correspondents in glances and little gestures. BEIQING CHENGSHI is also a film about the language, that tries to name and about the things which are talking itself.

VII.
The deaf Wenqing is imprisoned. From outside half covered through the grating, a little group of imprisoned. At the first sight, you do not recognize any terror before the death. Emotions, of which you got only ideas if you look between the little gestures which seem sometimes be reduced on simple mechanical functions of arms and legs. A name is called. Bodies from which only the torsos are visible who are embracing each other for the last farewell. Fragments of a tragedy, which is going on in the invisible. The door, which breaks the gaze into the compartment is opened, a man is taken away by an armed man. Some times later, someone is shooting. Some moments later, Wenqings name is called. On the face of his companions he realize, whose name was called. Again the door is opened. They bring him through a corridor, which seems to be reaching an eternity in the depth of the of the film image. The camera remains invariably, does not follow them. At the end of the corridor, they open a door and shut it. Then the deserted corridor like a tunnel without an end. There is the idea of the incredible terror, a nameless danger.
No light at the end of the tunnel.

VIII.
Wenqing is only able to communicate visual or writing with his environment. He is photographer. Like his diary- writing girlfriend, he is also a chronicler of events out of the public history. Often, we see him watching or retouching photographs on a lighted desk. Through the light, strange almost unknowable chimeres, sepia-colored phantom beings suspended from time. The whole film is no big family-saga, more an over dimensional family album. Every image is a witness of the presence of men and things. Every image with it´s own fragmented story. BEIQING CHENGSHI is closer to a film like Ozu´s BAKUSHU than Xie Jins THE TOWN HIBISCUS. Perhaps independent from Ozu, the same deep research for the destination and meaning of cinema and it´s basic element: the photographed picture. The persons are not only suffering under history, they try to record and preserve history, maybe in the unconscious idea of their own mortality. The photograph of the eldest( killed) brother on a funeral carried by relatives, the try at least to save a very small part of the life out of the time and conserve after the death. One of the last scenes, which reminds me in a strange kind in André Bazins essay "The ontology of the photographed picture": Wenqing in front of a mirror, preparing his hairs in almost ritual manner. Hinomi and their child are sitting in a painted decor, a paper decoration, with painted chimney, painted vase, painted window. Nothing alive. A false idyl, the dream of a better life out of the reality (out of the life). The klick of the photo camera. The picture is freezing, the position of the persons is likely them of mummies. From the off we hear the voice Hinomis, who tells, that this pictures is made three days before the arrest of Wenqing. But he insisted to finish his work. Since days, she does not get any news from him. It is not told, but their remains the sure feeling, that Wenqing was executed.

IX.
Images, scenes, which are not able for summarizing. Scenes which appear like strong divided rooms of a building and can not be simply connected by the montage to a story. The montage offers a number of possibilities for combinations of this sometimes fragmented or even mentioned stories to connect them through the own imagination. Very few flashbacks, diary texts spoken from the off like little underground corridors, through which you can find ways from one piece of story to the next. The plot, you read in a synopsis is partitioned in different stories, which keep themselves independent from the "main plot" its autonomy even when they are connected with each other:
The story of Wenliang, the third brother, who returned from the war, in which he was driven by the japanese occupants into a mental wreck, who turns caused bis his lability in criminal circles, who is imprisoned as an colaborateur and who is stroken to a physical wreck in the prisons of the KMT-regime. The rest of his identty is the forbidden eating of almost spoiled sacred fruits. It deals also with the Story Hinomis, Wenqings and their love story or the story of a family who suffers under the KMT-government which is like a continuance of the japanese occupation. Even the second brother (a doctor), who did not return from the war at all is present in a little story. His wife cleans every day his instruments, hoping he will come back. A list you could fill with more examples. These are the stories of the nameless, who won´t be in the ent history books. Stories like splinter of a broken glass. Facets of human lives, that let shine for one moment the uniqueness of one of them through: The death of the elder brother. His death caused by an attack with a knife. Short ugly scenes. Without any pathos the unthinkable fact of death. Every person is a little universe, every death a little end of the world.

X.
The last picture. Like at the beginning, a room without the presence of men, a vase, a window. A still life. The indifference of the lifeless things as the opposite to the moving and limited (life) time of men. The cinema turns back to it´s roots, the photography. Then a fade out, which closes the room which was opened by a fade up. The credits, a traditional rite of cinema, the signs like strange cryptic signs on a gate to a space which opens and shut, in that we were only observants but in which we felt for 160 minutes the almost uncanny presence of men and things. There are films, which can not be resumed with a synopsis; thy are like rooms, in which you must have inhabited for a certain time.

Rüdiger Tomczak 

On The Puppetmaster you can read here,
om Good Men, Good Woen there 
the original german version of my text on The Puppetmaster can be read here.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reduced Light - on Hsimeng Rensheng (The Puppet Master)

 


die deutsche Version finden sie hier


by Hou Hsiao Hsien) 
 

"The saddest things are separations and cases of death" 
Li Tien Lu 


I. 
An old man goes clumsy downstairs and looses his balance. While the camera remains motionless, you hear from outside of the frame his cries of pain, which becomes almost a whimper. Gradually everything disappears in a long fade out. While we are still hearing the whimpers, a soft and melancholic guitar music appears, which continues itself until the next shot: a green landscape in the daylight in that we see a carriage driving in the background. A pressing away of the last picture, like we try to distract ourselves from a sad memory to go to a more comfortable one. 
 

II. 
Touching and sometimes uncanny are the long fade outs. The darkness outside of the frame, between the single sequences appears like the nowhere land between that what has being and the things we are still able to remember. Every picture has a touch of mortality like the episodes in which the old actor is remembering himself. The seeming under-lighted pictures evoke in every fade out the feeling that something disappears forever. The dependence of the picture from the light is like the dependence of the memory from the physical function of the body. Hou is not simply illustrating the story of Li Tien Lu. He redefines his memories with the possibilities of cinema. The human memory does not work like a plot. It is non-perfect with holes and is built from single episodes without a visible plot. The utopia of the cinematograph as a memory of the men in this century, even if it is older than the cinema - maybe even older than pyramids and the tombstones of the past. 
 
III. 

Persons are often hardly visible as silhouettes. The weak light of lanterns, a red poster in the background which magnetize our view. Sometimes, the picture is narrowed through walls and entrances. In some scenes, the visible action of a person is reduced of the space of a door frame. A woman who cries at the deathbed of her husband, a sick man in the left part of the picture - hardly visible. This pictures are looking like old photographs where its chemistry is already in the process of decay; eyes which grope very hardly like a hopeless gesture of the holding on of the men and the things which will disappear into the nothing. I think about museums, where paintings are saved through reduced light against the decay or in pyramids in which everything will be die and turn into dust if it is opened and floodes by oxygene. It seems, that you could destroy with one torch a whole screening of Hsimeng Rensheng.
 
IV. 

Often we see scenes of puppet plays. After a while you can see as well the hands which lead the puppets and the human mouths which talk for them. In this sequences we find a track of the basic attitude of the whole film. Li Tien Lu tells about episodes which are not shown in the film. The ruling hands of Hou hsiao Hsien, you can find in the emphasized isolation of single scenes and in the use of music. More than in A City of Sadness, Hou separate here the single elements of the film like a slowly circulating laterna magica which betray the secret of its own magic like the hands of the puppet players. During one theater performance you see the heads of the audience as silhouettes. Just the stage in the background is in bright light. A strange picture as like you see a film from the position of the projectors cabin. When Francois Truffaut still was a film critic, he believed that a good film must have a vision of the world as well as a vision of the cinema. I like this idea and it helps me to overcome very easy the cultural distance to Taiwan. Even if its just for a film by Hou hsiao Hsien. 

V. 
in a strange laconic manner appear Li tien Lus stories from the off with his own voice or in the documentary sequences. It sounds different than the mood of Hous reconstructed scenes. It seems that Li Tien Lu has less problems with the mortality of men and things or the loss of those who are not existing anymore, than the director. The break between fiction and document is transparent. Now there is nothing left anymore from the illusion of the film as a illustration of the life in the different episodes; just chimeres between Memory and imagination. The happiest moments are when the old actor and (in and outside Taiwan's) famous puppet player Li Tien Lu sits in front of the camera while telling his stories. In one sequence after recitating a long story, the old man clear himself, drinks something and looks for some seconds in the camera. Hsimeng Rensheng deals with two possibilities to love a person. The one is the wish to collect the stories of which his life is built; the other is just the realizing of his physical presence. That are also two possibilities of cinematographic poetry, the one of the imagination and the absolute confidence in the men and things like they are. 

VI.

The art of transition: The rite of cinema, the titles at the beginning and the credits at the end, to the first or from the last image. The points opening and closing of a film are for Hou Hsiao Hsien almost always poetic reflections between the earthy reality of the film theatre in you are sitting in and the imagined reality of the film. The last pictures: Wrecks of airplanes in a green landscape. Under the monotone sound of people knocking and taking apart the airplanes which are left by the Japanese after the second world war because of its important metals. Than there is again the guitar music. Like an eternity the camera seems to be fixed on this image, that (like the music) begins to be preserved for our memory. Finally the picture of the green landscape begins heartbreaking gradually disappearing in the darkness of the fade out which is followed by the credits: white signs on black background. Credits that remind me in a funeral; the elegiac end of a film which seems to be the end of the world. Hous films are representing a cinema of modesty and severity. Just in the first and last moments the films are celebrating themselves: This films and especially Hsimeng Rensheng have all reasons to do so. 


Rdiger Tomczak

(filmwrts, Hannover, Nr. 30, December 1993)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Letter to F - on Good Men, Good Women by Hou Hsiao Hsien




Taiwan/Japan: 1995

 
by Rüdiger Tomczak
(provisorily translation from German, shomingeki No. 2, June 1996)


 Dear F,


Today, I have to tell You about an extraordinary film which could see by chance. You probably remember my disappointment, that I couldn't see this film last year in Montréal.

During the titles, we hear a song, which is sung by a group of men and women. In the first picture (in black and white), this group is walking through a landscape. “So why don't we sing”. It seems that they want to encourage each other with that song. Eternal slow, they are coming to the direction of the camera, pass it and leave the frame at the right side.

An apartment, in which two telephone beeps are listened. In the left part of the picture, an almost invisible person, that was woken up by the sounds, moves and gets up. It is the actress Liang Ching. Strangely, Video recorder and television are switched on. We recognize on the monitor a sequence from Banshun, one of the most beautiful films of Yasujiro Ozu. She takes off the paper from her tax machine machine. Someone must have stolen her diary and had faxed her some sides of it. An intimate diary side, three years after her boyfriend Ah-Wei was shot down in a bar: L and I screwed without a rubber. L was knocked down by my frenzy. It felt like it was with Ah-Wei. There is someone who has entrance to a strange story with the help of a machine with that past can be made to present. She sings a song which comes suddenly in her mind and disappears behind a wall of glass-mosaic-stones into the bathroom. She leaves the visible room and walks as well into another time, while we are still listening the song, which she sings in the present: Without You, I don't know how I am to live.

There, she is sleeping with her lover in front of a mirror. I am feeling like an invader, who watches from a hidden place an intimate scene, without being seen. For this one moment, I see myself as the unknown diary-thieve who goes into Liang Chings story.

Liang Ching during rehearsals for her role in the film Good Men, Good Women: she will play the role of Chiang Bi-Yu, who followed her lover Chung Hao-Tung to the mainland for joining the resistance against the Japanese occupators at world war II. Then, at the first view confusing, a deco loured sequence. Chiang Bi-Yu informs her father that she will follow her lover to the mainland. This shot is quite and almost as inevitable like the films of Ozu. Beside present and past, there is also the imagination of Liang Ching who works out her role and begins more and more to identify herself with it. It seems that this film consists of the coordination of three possible ones. Later we see in a total view a small group walking through the landscape. We can hear a melancholic music. From the distance, these people seem so fragile like this sequence seems faraway. It is almost unbearable. For seconds, the view distracts; the camera moves through the tops of trees. The group is received by other resistance-members. Faces almost in reverse-light and interiors as lighted like a human eye would realize them without the electric film light. Like the reduced light in The Puppetmaster could have to do with the fragility of memories, the deco loured sequences here could have to do with the one of the human imagination.

Haonan Haonu is permanent changing between this levels, which vary from each other and correspondent with them as well. In her apartment, she is always devoured by the uncanny power of her story. Episodes from her time with Ah-Wei, which are only fragments of her story, like sides of a diary, put out of the context. Once, they are dancing, another time she disturbs him while he wants to piss. There is often a cold blue over these memories. They seem to be in a strange kind like prisoners in Liang Chings memories.

Liang Chings off-voice leads again over to a black and white sequence. Here are the new arrived people interrogated with mistrust by the other resistance-fighters. A translator has to go between Taiwanese and mainlanders, because of their different languages. In this long, hardly lighted sequences, the problems of communication is felt. Like in A City Of Sadness, there is a chaos of communication. Hou insists on that authenticity of the variations of languages and as well on the time which is needed for the communication. Like in A City Of Sadness, language appears in variations. The one will provoke confusions, another one tries to bring something in order like the off-commentaries of Liang Ching.

Liang Ching tells about the real Chiang Bi-yu, whom she visited in the hospital. Her diary-recitations and the music seem like fragile transitions between the different time, and reality-levels and add as well a new aspect. That may have (after all reactions I heard about) bother some critics. But when we just begin to think about the much facets from which a life is built, I can't imagine a clearer film.

In a very long shot, Liang Ching and Ah-Wei are talking about the possibility of having a child. She is preparing her make-up, while we see them again from the perspective of a voyeur. We feel the same dis convenience like in the first flashback.

Bare trees. Women in nurse uniforms wash for the whole camp of the resistance-fighters. A pregnant woman who is in labours, is winding in pain. The music and the lack of colors emphasize the differences from the other parts of the film, from the present and the flashbacks. Lyrical sequences, which seem strangely out of time and in the spiritual near of Ozu. Every person, every gesture, every landscape, every tree is sacred.

Liang Ching sits with her brother in law and another man in a restaurant. They are talking about business and the anonymous phone calls, which bother Liang Ching, while we hear pop music from the loudspeakers. From time to time, somebody stands up for having a phone call in the depth of the picture with a handy. Later about the end of this extremely long sequence, we hear the song: All around I see gilded lives. This song drives her back into the past. Once she was a junky. There, Ah-Wei chains her for bringing her away from drugs. He feeds her, she spit him into his face. He had betray her once with another woman. When she is crying in his arms, she seems helpless like a child. She, who is permanent commenting the film from the off, seems as the storyteller as well as a person whose story is told. That reminds me in the imagine I have from Hou Hsiao Hsien, like I saw him in Edward Yangs film Taipei Story. He, that seems to me, can put his whole life and experiences to let become it poetry. But the transparence of his personality means as evident like that of a child.

Landscapes watched from a driving train or car. The voice of Liang Ching recites a sad part of her diary. Here, she tells from an awakening after a drunken night, like she awaked nude and threw out. She is a lost soul, wandering about between the times, her story, her present and the imagined time of her interpretation of Chiang Bi-yu.

Hou Hsiao hsien, he is like Ozu a Prometheus of the cinema, who suffers with and for his creatures. There is the feeling that every tear in this film could one of him and with every death in this film, a part of him dies with him.

There is Liang Ching with some men in a music-bar. A gigantic machine with light effects let appear her in different colors. She sits drunken in a corner, sometimes disappearing in this chaos of light, colors and shadow. She stands up, staggers, falls, staggers to the stage, where Music is played. She takes the microphone and sings: All around I see gilded Lives, but mine is tarnished. All around I hear words of Jade, but mine are luckless. Why I was born under a bad star? While she is absorbed by her performance, she is suddenly dancing with the death Ah-Wei. An Intoxication of alcohol, music and light which unifies for a moment past and present. A shot - Ah-Wei falls. The camera moves back in this ocean of reflecting lights. The time is suspended. Only space is existing. Later, she sits again in her apartment. She carries herself hardly into the bathroom, disappears behind a wall of glass mosaic-stones and throw out. We don't see her any more, but we can feel the pain of an identity, who is tortured by her own history. The driven away find its way through the body. Memories like sudden attacks of pain.

This film does not help to forget the world, it reflects it painfully. You know, for my side, the fax machine, the mobiles and the light machines in the bars of this film have something demonic. The machines, we created (including the cinematograph), through what we believe to overcome time and space are turning against us. A fax machine bores in the sense of the word in the story of Liang Ching. I almost believe that it has more influence in the course of her memories, than she herself. Is it possible to love the cinema and mistrust it at the same time, because of the ambivalent possibilities of its apparatus? I remember the almost utopia moments in The Puppetmaster, when the old puppetmaster looks direct into the camera and tells. There he has a presence which is stronger than the cinematograph. In Good Men, Good Women, the persons have to defend their presence against the disappearance in the anonymity of history and against the uncanny time machine cinema.

Chiang Bi-yu and Chung Hao-tung return to Taiwan after the war. They will be imprisoned by the national government, because of their marxistic opinion. At night, soldiers take two women in their houses for arresting. In the half darkness, an irritated child stays in the weak light of a lamp. Later, we see the corridor of the prison. Two men almost carry the brutal beaten Chung Hao-tung. Behind a grill of a compartment door, there are women looking at the corridor. A soldier comes, spell a name of one of these women. She takes a silent farewell from the others. Brutal and noisy the prison door is shut again. The interior is just visible through the grille. Later, there are more women, sent to the judge. One, who stays in the compartment, presses her face against the grille. In one of this compartments somebody begins to sing. One after one, more women and men sing along. The empty corridor in its eternal depth. Somewhere in these catacombs, there will be tortured and killed. That does not need to be shown. We can feel it.

Here, I had to think again of You, about Your history, the one of Your family and the land in which You were born and where You spent the first years of Your live. Today, nobody talks about that any more. It is now history. But it is still alive in Your memories.

Liang Ching is fighting with her sister, because of a seemingly affair between Liang Chian and her brother in law. They are beating each other on a tennis field. Later in a discotheque, they are dancing together with another friend. Close cling ed like children in an inferno of light and color-effects. Later, in Liang Chings apartment, the telephone rings again. She talks and nobody answers. Her monologue becomes to an imagined dialogue with the death Ah-Wei. She begs him to come back. The time is again suspended for a moment. She sings with tears in her voice: All around I see gilded lives, but mine is tarnished. All around I hear words of Jade, but mine are luckless. Why I was born under a bad star?

While we still hear her song, the film transits again into a black and white sequence. A man hangs a list of executed persons on a wall. Then, a boy informs a family, that the name of Chung Hao-tung was on this list. From the official information to the intimate sphere of a family in which history comes in with violence: the deathbed where Liang Ching is kneeing beside. We hear the voice over recited farewell-letter of Chung Hao-tung. The picture becomes colored. The face of Chiang Bi-yu during the death celebration: like in a silent film, we hear the musical Leitmotiv (now sung by a male voice) which sounds like a death complaint. That is not any more just the story of Chiang Bi-yu and Chung Hao-tung. It is at first a performance. The face of Chiang Bi-yu/Liang Ching is absorbed by in this performance of an performance. The expression of sadness in her seemingly aged face. I think, I saw something incredible. For this moment, the stories of Chiang Bi-yu and Liang Ching are fusing in the face of Annie Shizukah Inoh to an almost uncanny expression of sadness. That is as intensive and touching like the aria Have mercy oh Lord in Johann Sebastian Bachs St. Matthews Passion.

At the end, again the singing women and men walking through the landscape. This time, the picture is coloured. From the off tells Liang Ching/Annie Shizukah Inoh that the real Chiang Bi-yu has died before the end of the film teams work. Now we hear again the song, until they have lest the frame on the right side. Fade out. White signs on black background. Dedicated to Mr. Chung Hao-tung and Mrs. Chiang Bi-yu and all the political victims of the 1950s. Like at the end of A City Of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, a closing ceremony like a monument. It seems together with the music like a requiem. Everything is mortal, every life of touching fragility.

I dream about seeing this, one of the most touching film, I have ever seen, one day with You together. Let us then talk about films, about the “good men, good women” in our stories or what they could have to do with each other. I have told the whole time about this film but at the same time I thought only of You.
 Je t´embrasse
R.