A City of Sadness @ Art Gallery of New South Wales


Probably the most significant film to have emerged out of Taiwan’s New Cinema, A city of sadness – the final instalment in Hou’s trilogy – interweaves two storylines based upon the complex lives of four brothers. One story involves small-time gangster activities as the first and third Lin brothers become entangled in a turf war with recently-arrived smugglers from Shanghai. The other follows the fourth brother, who falls in love with his friend’s sister – a nurse who also narrates the film. There is also a perplexing array of supporting characters – wives, children, concubines, grandparents and friends – who, while often difficult to keep track of, enhance the overall sweep and beauty of the work. The narrative of A city of sadness is embedded in long, complex scenes designed to be deciphered by the viewer. Hou has developed a characteristic style marked by slow pacing, minimal plot development, wide shots, long takes and painstaking counterpoint between sound and image. With a haunting ambience and a strong sense of time and place, this complex family drama details a crucial moment in Taiwanese history between 1945, when Japanese colonial rule came to an end, and 1949, when the Kuomintang government relocated to Taiwan.


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