3 Best Movies to Watch by Tsai Chen-Nan

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, Tai Bo, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsai Chen-Nan, Wu Nien-Jen, 吴念真

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

There isn't anything about Man in Love—a remake of the 2014 South Korean film of the same name—that you haven't already seen before. But this iteration of the love story between a kindhearted woman and a scoundrel in business with gangsters and creditors benefits from high production values that help Taiwan stay romantic despite the grit of the film's plot. There's also an undeniable earnestness to even the most predictable beats here, helping the love story at its center feel more like a heat-of-the-moment bond forged in desperate economic times, and less like an abrupt bout of passion.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chih-ju Lin, Chun Hong, Hsin-Ling Chung, Lan Wei-Hua, Lin Chih-ju, LULU Huang, Peace Yang, Roy Chiu, Tiffany Hsu, Tsai Chen-Nan, Xiao Ying Bai

Director: Chen-Hao Yin