Singapore Diary - Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien


My last Singapore Diary is about the Hou Hsiao-hsien film retrospective that made me travel to Singapore earlier this month.

I was first introduced to Hou Hsiao-hsien's films last October in London, the same retrospective was running at the BFI.

The screenings were held in National Museum of Singapore's cinematheque (annoyingly, the link to the Hou Hsiao-hsien screenings is no longer available on the museum's website). The retrospective started on 26th February and ended on 20th March 2016. I only caught a weekend and a half worth of film screenings (11th-13th March and 19th March), so I still have a lot more of his films I'd like to see.

All the films were screened on 35mm and I was so happy to lose myself in Hou Hsiao-hsien's films which are about life, memory and time. Deeply touching films we can all relate to. Kevin Lee describes it best in this Sense of Cinema piece,

To watch a Hou movie is to be confronted with one’s abilities to bear witness to one’s memories, not merely as a distant object to be contemplated or commemorated, but as a past life relived with present day immediacy.

Here's what I watched:

A Time to Live, A Time to Die / Tong nien wang shi

Taiwan, 1985 |  137 min

I was deeply moved by this film. There are so many universal truths in it about family. One particular scene featuring the family's mourning of the father's death just shattered me and anyone who has lost a parent will relate to it.

This quote from Eric Hynes's review of the film in Reverse Shot eloquently sums up the film,

For what passes also remains, changed but still real, and that what seems present and alive is already, slowly and quickly, witnessed or ignored, passing away.

Dust in the Wind / Lian lian feng chen

Taiwan, 1986 | 107 min

A film about love, loss, heartbreak and change. The opening train scene is beautiful and seeing more of Hou Hsiao-hsien's I really want to visit Taiwan and travel across the country by train. I was also quite taken by these scenes.

The Puppetmaster / Xi meng ren sheng

Taiwan, 1993 | 142 min

A film about Taiwanese puppet master Li Tien-lu, spanning his childhood to early adulthood between 1908 and 1945. Li Tien-lu appears as a narrator in this film, and as much as it is his personal history, the film is also a look at Taiwan's history during those years. This line by Li Tien-lu about life, "the hardest things are separation and death" stayed with me.

Café Lumière / Kohi Jikou / Kafei Shiguang

Japan, 2003 | 103 min

This was my second viewing of Café Lumière, Hsiao-hsien's Japanese language film and an homage to Yasujiro Ozu commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Trains play a role in this film too. This is the last shot of the film, and don't worry, it's not a spoiler in my opinion. I never think of  Hou Hsiao-hsien's endings as actual endings, they are scenes that stay with you and makes you think of what could or will happen next.

The closing soundtrack is sung by the Hitoto Yō who also stars in this film. A song that makes me sway.

Three Times / Zuihao de Shiguang

Taiwan-France, 2005 | 116 min

This too was a second viewing for me, and it was so rewarding. Three different love stories, set in three different periods (1966, 1911 and 2005) featuring the same lead actors Shu Qi and Chang Chen in all three, who are are absolutely mesmerising in it.

Goodbye South, Goodbye / Nan guo zai jan, nan guo

Taiwan, 1996 | 116 min

Quite a melancholic film about gangsters and probably the most mundane film about gangsters I've seen. There are so many great eating scenes in Goodbye South, Goodbye, the most I've seen out of the Hsiao-hsien films I've watched so far.

Trains make an appearance too, but also cars and this wonderful motor bike scene. Turn up the sound and watch this.

Millennium Mambo / Qianxi Manbo

Taiwan-France, 2001 | 105 min

This last film I caught at this retrospective was Millennium Mambo. It was my second screening (it was the first Hou Hsiao-Hsien film I watched in London in October). It mesmerised me then, and I was even more mesmerised with the second viewing.

A film that makes me want to go dancing in Taipei and walking in Yubari, Japan. I shared this before and will share again. One in my list of the best opening scene in a film. The track is "A Pure Person" by Lim Giong.

I leave you with this video featuring Richard I. Suchenski, organiser of this film retrospective and editor of the book Hou Hsiao-hsien. It gives you an insight into Hsiao-hsien's films and I hope it encourages you to seek out his films if you've never watched them before. If there's ever a screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien films at a cinema near you, drop everything you're doing and go.