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悲情城市 (1989)
A City of Sadness

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 04/12/2001
Summary: Detached/ Involving?

I guess this is one of those judge for yourself movies. I was not very moved by it. A good movie nonetheless. Great acting, good characters and beautiful images.

Okay with those things out of the way, I'm gonna talk some idiot talk now and make my unenlightened observations.
It appears to be a very detached film. I've READ that it is one. The camera does not linger around during tragedies or merriments; it's always there, usually still, from a distance. When people gather around, they always leave the circle open (so I guess it's not a circle then) leaving the invisible third wall wide open for us the audience.

Okay then why the hell is the movie so angry? Why is it so xenophobic towards the mainlanders? If you were to tell me it was just how things were at the time, then why are ALL evil people in this flick, pro-nationalist government or anti, speak Mainland dialects. Even the Japanese are portrayed positively. Basically we see a family that gets wrecked over and over again by the mainlanders. This is political. This is passionate. This is not the detached film that I read about. And the music, it always comes in in the "right" (read: conventional) time. Whenever someone dies, whenever someone weeps, whenever the family is doing something sappy, we hear either nostalgic music of the time, or this very very (I'm not joking) BLOODSPORT-esque theme song. In the dialogues the characters never hesitate to voice their angers towards the mainlanders. This makes me wonder if the whole medium shot/ establishing shot thing is just a trick; just tryin to fool me into thinking that I'm watching an unbiased, unsentimental piece. This reminds me of a Roger Ebert essay on Speilberg's Raider of the Lost Ark and how passionate that movie was even though it appears to be a very technical piece.(http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/raiders.html).

This movie also reminds me a great deal of Zhang Yimou's "To Live": Both movies view an unpleasant Chinese-on-Chinese tragedy through the eyes of a family. Both of them feature a mute family member. But while "To Live" has characters who are always tryin to beat fate, tryin to be simple, tryin to obey the government and move on, "City of Sadness" brings us characters who question everything and everyone, who break laws so self-righteously and have nothing to believe in, not even communism. Couple of them are good people, not to mention fascinating characters, just misguided and self-pitying. Maybe these are the reasons why they call the film detached, maybe the director is actually telling me that these people deserve what they've gotten and brought on everyone else, then what about the innocent deaf Tony "Chunking Express" Leung? Is it telling me that the Taiwanese people, through conflicts with the Mainlanders, have actually led to their own misfortunes? Then why are the Mainlanders so evil? I'm confused. I've read my share of articles, but I still have to insist that this movie is a little contradictary. This is NOT a criticism, it's just an observation. Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" is very contradictary, yet it's THE greatest movie of the latter 20th century.

The movie runs at a long 2 and a half hours. When it was done there were only about 6 of us (began with about 50+.) I didn't know if 150 minutes was too long or not, but in my humble opinion, it could've ended a lil' sooner.

Unless you are like really into political dispairity. Because then this is probably a movie for you.

Reviewed by: shelly
Date: 01/09/2000
Summary: Hou Hsiao-hsien's masterpiece

Hou Hsiao-hsien's masterpiece. Unrelentlingly sad and equally unrelentingly beautiful, it shows this history of a family in Taiwan from 1945 to 1949: their complex relationship to the departing Japanese colonizers, and their sufferings at the hands of their new Kuomintang colonizers. Hugely popular and important on its release in Taiwan in 1989, it marked the beginning of a process of coming to terms with recent Taiwanese history, the first Taiwanese film recorded in sync sound (hence Tony Leung's character, a deaf-mute), and the beginning of Hou's Taiwanese history trilogy: followed by THE PUPPETMASTER (1993), and GOOD MEN GOOD WOMEN (1995). One of the greatest films in any language.

Reviewer Score: 10