Through the Lens of Hou Hsiao-hsien

Six film series at AFS Cinema examines the Taiwanese pioneer

The Boys from Fengkuei, first in the series of six films at AFS Cinema celebrating the work of Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien

Still largely lacking in the physical stateside release, the upcoming retrospective from Austin Film Society on Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien is the giddy cinephile treat for those looking to finally familiarize themselves with the writer-director’s very best work.

The six film series begins this Saturday with The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) which, along with The Time to Live and the Time to Die (1985), is one the films most etched in Hou’s bones. Both showcase a youth of political turmoil that would go onto manifest itself in the hazy modern recollection of a young, aimless woman’s life in Millennium Mambo (2001).

Hou is often noted for his neglect for plot and desire for characters that maneuver within an elliptical timeframe. His work is sometimes criticized for stretching that to its limits: But Millennium Mambo, for all of its languid tendencies, is the breath of fresh air for a kind of cinema that feels effortless to Hou. His subsequent work with the star of that film, Shu Qi, cements this notion of Hou being one of the greatest formalists of our time.

Flowers of Shanghai (1997) needs to (and can only) be seen on the big screen. With its 38 immaculately lit shots that span a 130 minute runtime, it marked a transition between Hou and longtime collaborator Mark Lee Ping bin, adding a formal touch that experiments with glacial camerawork, and a broad use of color for an overwhelmingly infectious texture.

The season will close on Sept. 29 with a special screening of A City of Sadness (1989): Widely considered his peak, the Golden Lion-winning examination of the historical domino effect of Taiwan’s past will be introduced by filmmaker and writer Peggy Chiao, often called the Godmother of New Taiwan Cinema.


AFS Cinema and Austin Asian-American Film Festival presents Reality in Long Shots: A Hou Hsiao-Hsien Retrospective, Sept. 8-29. Tickets and details at www.austinfilm.org.

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