A面B面 | The Double Life

Double life

Hangzhou, China, the present day. Chen Congming, an associate professor at a medical college who is popular with his students, alarms his superiors with his theory that everyone has the potential to go crazy, and that the dividing line between sanity and insanity is paper-thin. The college principal has Chen committed to a mental asylum. There Chen gets to know an orderly, Liang Haichao, who was recently divorced by his childhood sweetheart Liu Yue, a money-obsessed model now suffering from chronic depression. Liu is now engaged to wealthy Cantonese businessman Xiao Chunlei, who’s made his fortune from health/sex tonics. But when Xiao’s six-year-old daughter by his ex-wife Shao Meili has to go into hospital for an emergency kidney operation which Xiao pays for, Liu becomes further depressed that he’s looking to reconcile with his ex-wife. She has a very public nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, Liang has decided that Liu needs “rescuing” from Xiao, and persuades her to get Xiao committed to the mental asylum by feeding him her anti-depressant pills. In the asylum Chen meets Xiao, whom he realises has been framed, and the pair decide to break out together.

Directed by Ying Ning | Starring : Luoyong Wang, Jingchu Zhang, Daniel Chan Hiu Tong, Wenkang Yuan, Wei Kong | Presented at Shanghai Film Festival

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海上花 | Flowers of Shanghai

Flowers of Shanghai

After a long line of films interrogating Taiwan’s past and present, Hou Hsiao-hsien turned to 19th-century China, adapting Han Bangqing’s late Qing novel on the upscale brothels of Shanghai’s foreign concessions. Denied permission to shoot in the city itself, Hou made his film entirely in a studio — befitting the cloistered, microcosmic world of the courtesans and their patrons — and reduced the novel’s sprawling cast to a handful of central characters. Cantonese civil servant Wang has hit a rough patch with long-term companion Crimson and looks to her younger rival Laelia; haughty Emerald (Michelle Reis) connives with Luo to buy out her contract; and up-and-coming Jade resists experienced elder courtesan Pearl, and has a liason with the naive Zhu Shuren. These relationships — governed by strict codes of money and power — are conveyed in appropriately sensual yet rigorous style: carefully choreographed camerawork by Lee Ping-bin, a minimal editing scheme (37 shots, each bracketed by fades), and haunting leitmotifs from composer Hanno Yoshihiro.

Directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou | Starring : Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Carina Lau, Michelle Reis, Hada Michiko, Jack Kao | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Taipei Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, Kerala Film Festival, Auckland Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival

南国再见,南国 | Goodbye, South, Goodbye

Goodbye South Goodbye

After spending much of the decade making films about Taiwan’s complex and troubled history, Hou Hsiao Hsien turns his attention to its money-obsessed present with this gangster drama. Tattooed mobster, Kao , and his quick-tempered, aptly named protégé, Flathead, along with their girlfriends, Ying and Pretzel, are desperately trying to make it big. Their master plan is open a disco in Shanghai, but that scheme seems less and less likely with each call they get from their cell phone. Corrupt mainland potentates want a king’s ransom in kickbacks while Pretzel racked up a king’s ransom of debt herself at the mahjong table, prompting her to make a half-hearted suicide attempt. To make ends meet, these would-be entrepreneurs make a stab at swindling the government over swine — selling sows when they are supposed to be the more valuable studs. They wine and dine the farmers in rural backwater Chiayi only to get cut out of the deal and kidnapped by the corrupt police. This film was dubbed of the ten best films of the 1990s by numerous critics, including Susan Sontag.

Directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou | Starring : Jack Kao, Kuei-Ying Hsu, Giong Lim, Annie Shizuka Inoh, Hsiang Hsi | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Singapore Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival

好男好女 | Good Men, Good Women

Good Men Good Women

Unknown man bothers actress with a diary stolen from her. Ambitious film about film and life by one of today’s greatest film-makers. The story is set in present-day Taipei. Liang Ching, a young actress, is bothered by an unknown man who calls her up regularly, but doesn’t say anything. He has also stolen her diary and keeps sending her pages from it by fax. Liang Ching is busy rehearsing a role in a film about two anti-Japanese guerrillas in China in the forties. Her approach to the scenes seems increasingly influenced by her personal background, especially by the faxed diary notes. She remembers the time when she worked as a bar-girl, was addicted to drink and drugs and had a short and intense relationship with the gangster Ah Wei. As Liang Ching works through the script of the film, the identification with her film role becomes stronger, but her life is still dominated by underworld figures. Her brother-in-law – whose wife, her sister, suggests Liang Ching is having an affair with him – is involved with the construction of a factory to treat chemical waste in the Taiwanese countryside. Slowly but surely, the boundaries between the film-in-the-film, the underworld and Liang Ching’s memories of Ah Wei disappear.

Directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou | Starring : Annie Shizuka Inoh, Vicky Wei, Jack Kao, Giong Lim, Chen-Nan Tsai | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Singapore Film Festival, Changchun Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival