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Arts & Culture

MoPA's Taiwan Cinema Spotlight Highlights Director Hou Hsiao-hsien

Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Dust in the Wind" screens as part of MoPA's Taiwan Cinema Spotlight.
MoPA
Hou Hsiao Hsien's "Dust in the Wind" screens as part of MoPA's Taiwan Cinema Spotlight.

A trio of films will screen in 35mm over next three nights

MoPA's Taiwan Cinema Spotlight Highlights Hou Hsiao Hsien
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews MoPA's Taiwan Cinema Spotlight on director Hou Hsiao Hsien.

HOST INTRO: The Museum of Photographic Arts kicks off its Taiwan Cinema Spotlight on director Hou Hsiao Hsien [pronounce Ho sheow she-en] tonight. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says the timing is perfect since the 68-year-old director just screened a new film at the Cannes Film Festival. Hou Hsiao Hsien is a master craftsman yet his work gets minimal play in the U.S. because his slow pace, elliptical storytelling, and themes of alienation can test the patience of viewers raised on fast food filmmaking. His films are ravishingly cinematic but rely less on dialogue and action and more on color, mood, movement, and music. CLIP Music Hou’s films feel unstructured, yet he endows them with meticulous layering of themes and ideas. If you only look at the surface, then his work will seem to lack compelling content. But if you’re will to participate and seek out meaning, you’ll be richly rewarded. MoPA’s Taiwan Cinema Spotlight will screen 35mm prints of Hou’s Dust in the Wind, Daughter of the Nile, and Millenium Mambo tonight through Saturday. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Film Program

"Dust in the Wind" (1986)

Thursday, May 28 at 7 p.m.

A country boy moves to the city with his girlfriend, only to discover that opportunities in work and love don't come so easily. Hou's early masterpiece portrays the portal to adulthood as a quiet train ride shuttling across miles of expectation.

"Daughter of the Nile" (1987)

Friday, May 29 at 7 p.m.

In perhaps Hou Hsiao-hsien's rarest film, a manga-loving, Kentucky Fried Chicken-working young woman keeps her family together even as its members drift into the Taipei underworld.

"Millennium Mambo" (2001)

Saturday, May 30 at 7 p.m.

Superstar Shu Qi shines in Hou's study of urban youth dancing between electronic beats and the cool, self-effecting quiet of inertia.

The Museum of Photographic Arts kicks off its Taiwan Cinema Spotlight on director Hou Hsiao-hsien Thursday night. The timing is perfect since the 68-year-old director just screened a new film at the Cannes Film Festival.

This past Sunday Hou Hsiao-hsien picked up the director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his latest film, “The Assassin,” which delivered his particular take on the epic Asian action film.

Hou is one of the world's premier filmmakers yet his films are lucky to play a few festival dates or, on a rare occasion, get a limited art house run here in the United States.

The reason Hou's films get minimal play in the U.S. is that his proclivity for what is now being dubbed slow cinema and his themes of alienation can test the patience of viewers raised on fast-food filmmaking that assaults your senses with frenetic cutting and camerawork. In addition, his films generally boast little dialogue to engage viewers; his characters can be cold and distant; and his style can be visually seductive but intellectually provocative. He never tells his audience what to think but gives them plenty to think about if they are willing to look beyond the surface.

Hou’s films are definitely for an art house crowd. There’s no way his carefully measured pace and elliptical storytelling could ever hold a mall audience’s attention. That’s not a dis on mainstream audiences or films, but rather an acknowledgement that there are different films for different audiences. It’s important that people have a sense of what they’re getting into when they go to a particular film because going in with the wrong set of expectations could mean that they’ll leave the theater disappointed and unwilling to experiment again.

So while I urge any lover of film to see every Hou film that comes his/her way, I also want people to know that he is not a filmmaker who will hold your hand and lead you to obvious conclusions. You have to participate in his films to find their subtle meanings. While I urge film lovers to sample the exquisite craft of Hou, I also realize that many people leave his films scratching their heads and wondering why Hou is such a critic’s darling.

But Hou is absolutely a master craftsman and you cannot call yourself a connoisseur of film and not appreciate his craft. His films are always ravishing to look and deceptively complex works. He demands far more of viewers in terms of participation than his countryman Ang Lee, whose works such as “The Wedding Banquet,” “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Brokeback Mountain” are much more accessible, ingratiating and widely shown.

In presenting its Taiwan Cinema Spotlight for the second year in a row, MoPA cites Hou in its program notes as “the world’s greatest living filmmaker, Hou has been hoisted on many mantles: internationally, he's known as the progenitor of the global slow cinema movement as well as a leader of the post-modern historical film, and domestically he's considered the figurehead of the groundbreaking Taiwan New Cinema movement.

But at the core, Hou's films reflect an original vision that is highly personal in its pacing and sense of time.”

MoPA has selected three films from two centuries to represent Hou’s work: “Dust in the Wind” (1986), “Daughter of the Nile” (1987), and “Millennium Mambo” (2001). All three will be shown on 35mm and if any filmmaker benefits from actual film projection it is Hou because his films are so deliciously cinematic and exist so much through color and light. His films may feel unstructured, but on closer inspection you will see that Hou endows his films with a meticulous layering of themes and ideas.

If you only casually glance at the surface, then his films will appear formless and lacking in compelling content.

But if you are will to participate and seek out meaning, you will be richly rewarded.

The three films screening reflect Hou's particular take on coming of age in a new Taiwan.