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DUST IN THE WIND
1986 - Hou Hsiao hsien
Taiwan
11
Opening Shot

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The Film

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The Filmmaker

Hou Hsiao-hsien (pronounced Ho shao-shen) may be the worlds greatest filmmaker in contemporary cinema. Under appreciated in the West simply because his films are nearly unavailable (although his recent films and some from the 1990s have appeared on Region-1 dvd). I've seen nearly every one of his films and would classify almost all of them masterpieces (and picking individual favorites prove to be a difficult challenge as each film is so unique from one another). Hou (along with Edward Yang) was the leading pioneer of the New Taiwan Cinema that emerged during the 1980's. Along with the New Hong Kong cinema (Wong Kar-Wai), and China's fifth generation (Tian Zhuangzhuang, Zhang Yimou), The New Taiwan Cinema focused on the past and the social identity of Chinese history. Hou's films may be the biggest impact of this movement, as he embodies a filmmaker that separated his country from the rest of the world and gave Taiwan an individual voice in cinema, which finally captured the concerns and social issues of the past and present. In many ways Hou is to Taiwan what Yasujiro Ozu was to Japan during the 1940s, in that his cinema represents the current and past of Taiwan's suppressed history and identity. Hou's connection with Ozu doesn't end there, as stylistically and thematically the influence is evident. At the core of both filmmakers work is the equal fear and possibility that arise with searching for or tolerating personal and national identity. They both also share a calm and minimalist approach. Of course to simplify either filmmakers to each other or to anything I can justify with words is really no possible. Hou themes range to endless depths with a center on failed communication, loss of memory, and disconnection. These themes are captured within romantic relationships that are used as a reflection of social or national relationships. Hou's cinematic style consists of long, often static takes which sometimes are occupied by isolated or repetitive space, as the expression is of the overall composition of the image as opposed to the dramatic content of the frame. The dramatic events in Hou's films is time and space. This approach is distant yet transcendent through Hou's mastery of deep focus composition, expressive lighting and framing, and repetitive use of images. Hou also (like Robert Bresson) uses off-screen space and sound as a form of cinematic expression. Though he made some groundbreaking and personal masterworks throughout the 1980s, Hou's international recognition came with the 1989 release of City of Sadness. Made with a neorealist approach, Hou explored the history of a controversial event in Taiwan (a 1947 massacre of thousands of citizen in Taipei). Hou used the brutality and violence offscreen and instead focused on the emotional impact of an individual family without an ounce of sentiment or manipulation. The film was Hou's biggest Taiwan box office success, but ultimately divided his popularity in his native country, who's cinema interests were mostly Hollywood fare. Hou's next film 1993's Puppetmaster marked a new transition, particularly in his experimentation with narrative boundaries. This era was marked by deep studies of Taiwan past and present history both of which are examined in 1995's Good Men and Good Women. This era (also noted by the contemporary Goodbye South Goodbye and the distant past of Flowers of Shanghai) represented the disconnection of his characters within society, which is heightened through Hou's long takes and composition (as well as use of music and sound- both of which are prominent features of Hou's cinema). This stage of Hou's films explored themes of suppressed past and identity (paralleled individually and nationally). 2001's Millennium Mambo became a new transition of alienated youth and failed relationships, which continued with his 2003 Ozu homage Café Lumiere (not one of Hou's most important works, but probably among my personal favorites). To me, Café Lumiere expressed both the similarities and distinct differences of Hou and Ozu, while also defining the unique change in time period. Above all it represents two masters who's cinema requires endless exploration in order to fully discover the beauty and depth. Three Times, Hou's latest film is a masterpiece (one of his very best) and it seems to be setting up another experimenting transition, while also reflecting his entire filmography. It's one of his greatest accomplishments and a transcendent film to cherish. Hou is among the very greatest filmmakers of all-time. A filmmaker who is always challenging and exploring the boundaries of his own cinema and his native country through a diverse mastery of personal and artistic expression.

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