Sunday, August 13, 2017

Edward Yang's "Taipei Story" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 18 - 20

In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese marked. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Company began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong, (see Shaw Brothers Studio for reference), the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. The second New Taiwanese Cinema movement of the 1990s produced a generational doublet of young directors who picked up the torch left behind in the wake of the New Wave of the decade before. With an eye to the International Festival Circuit, this second generation of non-commercial arthouse cinema built upon the foundation of the movement that proceeded them. In a filmmography of beguiling, often time-distended works, no other Taiwanese director has advanced the art to the extent of Tsai Ming-Liang. Roger Clarke's "The Incomplete Tsai Ming-liang" for The Guardian, and Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature detail the subjects of longing, time, connectivity and estrangement explored this singular body of work. Crediting the trailblazing work of the New Wave's first generation, the director spoke in 2010, "On the Uses and Misuses of Cinema" for an audience at Taiwan's National Central University.

Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after it's completion. As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection by the British Film Institute as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang" and Harvard Film Archive's, "The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen", have presented the totality of Yang's feature works, including that of the urban struggles of "Modern Planning" depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". Bridging two pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" in a single generation,  these two works chronicle the development of this arthouse master, particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".