Hou Hsiao-hsien

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#376 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 30, 2021 10:30 am

I was so happy to see Puppetmaster screened -- but sad to know I might never have another chance to see it again (as the DVD is not worth watching).

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#377 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Nov 30, 2021 10:37 am

It’s very sad, though as bad as the DVD is, it’s the only HHH film I’ve seen that indicates genius

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#378 Post by jegharfangetmigenmyg » Tue Nov 30, 2021 12:48 pm

I cannot imagine subjecting myself to watch that film in cropped 4:3 format. Of course, there are all the painterly landscape scenes with action taking place in the entire 1.85:1 frame, but, more importantly, Hou's habit of shooting from one room through a doorway to another would make no sense visually, if huge parts of walls and door-openings were cropped. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a letterboxed VHS-recording from the French Arte channel, supposedly shown when it was still "legal". It had burned in French subtitles, and I had to sync the subtitles from the dvd on top of them. Obviously, the quality was VHS, but I could see the whole picture, and it actually had more shadow details than the washed out dvd.

Ironically, for all this work, I found it to be his most pedestrian, and least inspiring, film. A film where he takes his objectivity in storytelling game to new extremes, and I found it to be mostly an academic experience (I liked the fact that he let the narrator "speak out the action" between the segments, which, for the most part, had as little as possible, if any, action), not very involving, and I didn't really care for any of the characters. Maybe his most visually astounding and classical film, but far from the most interesting. Couldn't say I was surprised to learn that he improvised the script from the stories of Li Tien-lu, because it certainly is very rambling and not coherent, even more so than most Hous.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#379 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 30, 2021 1:39 pm

jegharfangetmigenmyg - I actually was quite transported seeing Puppetmaster screened -- whereas I had felt it was less than thrilling when I watched it (butchered) on DVD. It is "rambling" -- but I didn't mind it. Now, whether watching a good quality release on DVD/Blu-ray would cause me to feel the same as seeing it actually screened (as a possibly one in a life time opportunity) -- who knows. All I can say is that seeing HHH films screened struck me even more powerfully than seeing them at home (and this included the ones I loved most on DVD).

therewillbeblus - Sorry to hear that HHH seems to leave you mostly "cold". Once I gave him a second chance (after my initial rather poor reaction to Goodbye South Goodbye on DVD), he became one of my top "modern" favorites. I love most of his films -- and like even his lesser films quite a bit. He certainly ranks as a "master" for me (is that equal to "genius"?)

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#380 Post by hearthesilence » Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:07 pm

Yeah, I'm kind of stunned by that dismissal because if anything The Puppetmaster (or Dream Life) was the MOST involving HHH film I've seen, in terms of the filmmaking and the subject matter. I've already posted about it before, but I will add that it's the first film that comes to mind when I think of one film that best depicts Taiwanese culture and its tumultuous history.

I think I can understand Michael's need for a second chance because Good Men, Good Women was the first time I saw any of HHH's work and I was completely lost, being completely green about Taiwanese history. You don't need to be a historian, but without knowing even the basics, I was mentally playing catch up the whole time to no avail. I think I simply read through an encyclopedia entry (not Wikipedia) before I caught City of Sadness and Puppetmaster, and it made an enormous difference. (I would grow to appreciate both enormously when I finally saw them projected - by then, I had a much better understanding of Taiwanese history, but more importantly I saw what the DVD transfers were losing, with the mastery of light and composition and the maximalist effect of the deceptively minimalist approach becoming all the more apparent.) Certainly a master in my book - I prefer using that term over "genius" since the latter suggests some kind of measurable brilliance when such a thing isn't quantifiable in creating art.

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#381 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:44 pm

To be clear, I went and finished off HHH’s filmography a couple years back and liked other films of his well enough (I even bought a few of the available blus) but nothing evoked a comprehension of the weighty accolades thrown his way. I actually liked Puppetmaster the least when I saw it many years ago- but my second watch, at the end of that recent binge, destroyed me. It’s one of those rare films that I can’t explain why I loved it, but it was a kind of spiritual experience. As soon as the DVD finished, I immediately restarted it, something I don’t know if I’ve ever done before or since. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made my top fifty when we get to the All-Time list
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#382 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:45 pm

I've never felt such a huge gap between films I already loved on home viewing and my reaction on seeing the same films screened. I never could have imagined how much more powerful they would seem.

My problem with GSG wasn't the history -- but rather I just couldn't comprehend HHH's style. I had no idea what he was doing -- or why. Luckily, there were certain scenes (trains gliding through the countryside and little towns, for example) that I could not get out of my head. I was even more mystified by Tsai. Because giving HHH a second chance proved fruitful, I tried the same thing with Tsai. Alas, I disliked things even more. So, I just had to decide his style was incompatible with my tastes.

As to HHH again. I think Dust in the Wind is the film that made me fall in love with his work (as opposed to "appreciating" it) and Millennium Mambo kicked things up another notch. After that, I liked everything else I'd seen previously even more once I watched them again.

TWBB -- As I recall, I think I watched Millennium Mambo twice on two successive days when I first got the (beautiful) French DVD.

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#383 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Nov 30, 2021 4:01 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:45 pm
TWBB -- As I recall, I think I watched Millennium Mambo twice on two successive days when I first got the (beautiful) French DVD.
I really like that film too! One of his best (I like City of Sadness like everyone, and several others I’d consider good to great). It just didn’t open my soul like his best film did

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#384 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Nov 30, 2021 4:19 pm

TWBB -- Glad you could get so much from the awful Puppetmaster DVD. I'll never re-watch that DVD because it would detract from my memories of the screening. (I really feel so fortunate to have gotten to go to almost all of the films shown at the HFA retrospective. Sadly I had to miss Good Men, Good Women, which I had very much wanted to see screened).

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Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien

#385 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Tue Nov 30, 2021 6:28 pm

There's a widescreen copy of The Puppetmaster on Youtube that based on the quality and the Chinese hardsubs probably comes from the VCD. There was a widescreen VHS in the UK and a laserdisc in Japan that almost certainly look better, but good luck finding them—WorldCat only lists one library in the whole of the UK with a copy of the VHS release.

While I hate to be a wet blanket about A City of Sadness, I was told the same thing about a possible restoration in 2018. If it does happen then that bodes well for The Puppetmaster, since they're owned by the same guy.
Michael Kerpan wrote:
Tue Nov 30, 2021 3:45 pm
My problem with GSG wasn't the history -- but rather I just couldn't comprehend HHH's style. I had no idea what he was doing -- or why.
Chu T'ien-wen once mentioned that Francis Ford Coppola (who was head of the jury when the film premiered at Cannes) was interviewed by a Taiwanese media outlet and said something along the lines of "I know a lot of people don't understand what this movie is trying to do, but I think I did." Unfortunately Chu didn't recall if he said what that thing was. I'm much less confident about my understanding of the film than Coppola, but it's never affected my love for it, a lot of which stems precisely from the apparent aimlessness (I don't think I've seen any other film that so perfectly evokes the highs and lows of the full-time hustler). I also find it very funny, and the audacity of the last act just about cracks me up whenever I think about it.

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