Thursday, May 10, 2007

Taiwanese Cinema, take two

It has been over a year since I first shed a spotlight on Taiwanese Cinema. Back then I wanted to focus on Hou Hsiao-hsien & Tsai Ming-liang, two acclaimed directors whose work had been unknown to me. In the end I discovered the accolades were indeed worthy -- both HHH and Tsai are two of the best film directors in the world right now. This time around I decided to visit works by these directors along with another bright name in Taiwanese cinema -- Edward Yang. Yang along with Hou is considered part of the first New Wave of Taiwanese cinema. I will start with his award-winning 2000 film Yi Yi and attempt to work backwards to his early collaborations with Hou.
But for starters, the 1992 debut effort from Tsai Ming-liang:

Rebels of the Neon God: Rating 9.5/10

One movie is never enough to give an insight into a director’s arsenal but sometimes it provides a tiny glimpse into what he has to offer. However, in order to make a full assessment, it is essential to watch all of a director's work from the start. Most of the times watching a director's work in chronological sequence is a luxury. We often see a movie by a director and if we like it, we pursue his/her older works. Such was the case with me. I jumped aboard Tsai Ming-liang's cinematic journey midway in 2001 with What Time is it there. That time his hero, Kang Hsiao (played by Lee Kang-sheng) was trying to make a living selling watches. His father had passed away and his mother was trying to get the father's spirit to return. In 2005, Kang was trying to make a living working as porn actor in The Wayward Cloud. But Kang's story started with Rebels of the Neon God and has continued for another 14 years. And in 2006, Kang returned to Tsai's birth land Malaysia in I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, a film I can't wait to see. This effort was the first time Tsai turned the lens back on his native country and away from Taipei.

It is hard to believe that Rebels of the Neon God was Tsai's first full length feature because it is such a well developed film. The story involves Kang Hsiao and his efforts to drop out of high school and spend hours in the arcade. One day while he is in father's taxi, a young man on a motorcyle smashes his dad's mirror. Kang follows the motorcyle guy and his girlfriend around and eventually takes his revenge in a simple yet cruel manner. The film is amazingly shot with not much dialogue yet one does need too many words to understand Kang's emotions and feelings. Each shot is framed & lit so well that we can sit back and peacefully observe Kang's teenage angst, curiousity & even boredom.

Because I have seen The Wayward Cloud, I couldn't help read too much into a harmless scene around the 16 minute mark in Rebels... In this scene, Kang and his father buy and eat watermelon from a roadside vendor. Kang's father gives his son a few extra pieces and tells him to eat them all. 13 years later in the The Wayward Cloud Kang is still eating watermelons but this time the watermelon is used as a prop in the porn movie.

So far, I have enjoyed each Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng collaboration seperately but watching all them one after another will be a real treat. But I have to make that journey, one movie at a time...

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