2 Best Movies to Watch by Su-Yun Ko

Staff & contributors

A City of Sadness is a film set in 1945, after Japan is defeated in the war and Taiwan is subject to uncertainties of a changing sociopolitical landscape. It follows the four Lin brothers, who each struggle in this tumultuous period — from Wen-heung, the eldest who gets on the bad side of a local gang, to Wen-ching, who chooses to stand against the Chinese Kuomintang government despite being deaf-mute. 

Instead of turning to the usual machinations of a historical family drama, director Hou Hsiao-hsien shows the vast expanse of Taiwanese countryside through steady, beautiful cinematography. In urban areas, the camera moves in scenes of sudden violence, which it pans toward until it exits frame for us to only hear the screams of people offscreen. There are also quiet interludes that barely last a minute, where dynamics between characters depict the anxiety of the times. Tony Leung, who plays the deaf-mute brother, hasn't refined the craft of subtle acting with his eyes yet, but traces of brilliance are already there. 

The trauma of rapidly changing times, as a nation is exploited from one war to the next, is depicted so clearly. The authoritarian state erodes families, and Hou paints a picture of a society on the brink, a representation of 1940s Taiwan that feels more like a tragic poem than a film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Chan Chung-Yung, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hsin Shu-Fen, Jack Kao, Kelly Ko, King Shih-Chieh, Li Tian-Lu, Mei Fang, Su-Yun Ko, Tai Bo, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsai Chen-Nan, Wu Nien-Jen, 吴念真

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Slow and almost silent, Edward Yang’s second feature film pins us down in a fast-moving city. In 1980s Taipei, Chin and Lung are childhood sweethearts who try to build a life together, but differences between their wants threaten to pull them apart. Chin bravely adapts to the changes she faces—moving house, shifting jobs, etc.—while Lung misses his promising baseball career and prioritizes familial debt. Through their relationship, the film captures the anxieties of a generation pulled between new Western consumerism and old Asian familial obligations. Watching the two lovers feels like being lost in a cold urban city, unable to move and not knowing where to go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chen Shu-fang, Chin Tsai, Cynthia Khan, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ko I-chen, Ko Su-yun, Lin Hsiu-ling, Mei Fang, Peng Sun, Su-Yun Ko, Tsai Chin, Wu Nien-Jen, Yang Li-yin, 吴念真

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated