A City of Sadness

Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Film // October 4, 2016

A City of Sadness can be seen as a culmination of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s earlier efforts. It’s a sweeping drama that investigates how KMT occupation affects the lives of three brothers, through the 228 Incident and the subsequent White Terror. Broader in scope than his previous films, A City of Sadness solidified Hou’s place in the international space while reinvigorating discussion on Taiwan’s past.

Hou’s use of scene and music evoke a sense of longing and nostalgia. It’s this excavation of suppressed history that highlights Hou’s precision and gentle craftsmanship. The three brothers serve as different facets into the complex problems that laid confronted a newly liberated Taiwan. The island was born from conflict, and has spent all of its existence battling for its culture and history, through Japanese occupation, KMT-instituted martial law and mainland threat. It’s precisely because Taiwan’s history is patterned by these precarious realities, that Hou pushes the audience to understand and unravel it.