regained appreciation for edward yang and wu nien-jen

September 16th, 2008

I enjoy being in Boston a lot – and one of the reasons is the presence and close vicinity of the Harvard Film Archive. It’s a treasure trove for rare, obscure, foreign, or otherwise hard-to-find movies.

Last weekend and this weekend, they are showing a retrospective of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen, two of the pioneers of the Taiwanese New Wave. I have long had a huge admiration for Taiwanese cinema and Edward Yang is no exception. His movies, besides maybe Yi Yi, however, have always been incredibly hard to find. I always thought it was the definition of irony that his most widely acclaimed movie, Yi Yi, who is so quintessential Taiwanese, was not distributed in Taiwan itself. Maybe it has by now, but when I was in Taiwan from 2001-2002, the movie won awards everywhere but my classmates at the National Taiwan University could only see this movie by downloading it.

Three nights ago, I saw Taipei Story, which is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Ozu’s Tokyo Story, although the Chinese title (qingmei zhuma) translates more accurately as a proverb that refers to the kind of friend you have that you have known since childhood. In that sense, it’s a strongly nostalgic word that captures the appreciation for a shared history between you and your friend – all the things you have gone through together, the good times, the bad times, the way you dealt with adversities together, the successes you enjoyed together. This mixed sense of nostalgia and appreciation is explicated layer for layer for layer in this wonderful movie by Yang, who casted another Taiwanese New Wave director Hou Hsiao-hsien as his main protagonist. HHH plays a former Little League baseball star who is now wondering what happened to a world where his role was so clearly defined but now has changed so much, leaving him behind. It’s a critical look at the success of Taiwanese economic development – underscoring the social costs that often come with economic growth spurts (this, however, is not a necessary outcome. For a brilliant argument on why economic growth has to take into account and include social and political growth as well, see Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom).

Last night I saw another wonderful movie by Edward Yang, That Day on the Beach. I won’t summarize the story here, but it’s a wonderful story that plays with narrative structure and weaves a web of relationships between fascinating characters that portray the richness of human life in all its glory (and not so glory).

In short, I’m extremely grateful to be in a place and position where I have been able to see these movies that have been almost impossible to find these days. Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen also just skyrocketed to my list of directors I have a deep admiration for – not that it wasn’t there, but being able to see their earlier works in full glory, something I haven’t been able to do before, confirms and underscores my admiration for them as persons who have a deep passion for what they do, have a admirable understanding of the oh-so important nuances of human life, care about the world around them and seek to share this through their work.

Posted in movies

One Response

  1. Yin

    green with envy over here 🙂

book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata