A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
A 15-Film Retrospective of Sylvia Chang, the Groundbreaking Actress and Director, Begins Friday, May 18 at Metrograph
A 15-Film Retrospective of the Groundbreaking Actress and Director Including Films by Edward Yang, Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, Stanley Kwan, and Jia Zhangke
Chang To Appear In-Person!
Beginning Friday May 18, Metrograph will present a 15-film retrospective of Sylvia Chang. A groundbreaking writer-director in a male-dominated industry, improbably prolific international movie star of the first flight, pop sensation, and fearless stunt actor, Chang is a one-woman dynamo of artistic activity whose triumphant career spans cultures East and West, genres and disciplines. Her recent output includes musical comedy Office (2015), which she wrote and starred in for Johnnie To, and a poignant turn in Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart (2015). Born in Taiwan, Chang broke through as an ingenue in pop cinema, appearing in classical adaptations, like gender-bending Qing-period love story The Dream of the Red Chamber (1977), and wuxia classics, like King Hu’s philosophical kung-fu tale Legend of the Mountain (1979). A performer of eloquent restraint and power, she won her first Taiwan Golden Horse Award as Best Actress for My Grandfather (1981); went on to work with a pantheon of Chinese auteurs operating around the globe, including Tsui Hark, Edward Yang, Stanley Kwan, and Ang Lee; and emerged as a powerful filmmaking force in her own right, before turning director, producing such elegant, nuanced works as 20 30 40 (2004), Murmur of the Hearts (2015), and Love Education (2017). Altogether it makes for an unprecedented career.
Co-presented with Taipei Cultural Center in New York, Ministry of Culture of Taiwan (R.O.C.). Special thanks to Patricia Cheng, Hong Kong Film Archive, Taiwan Film Institute, and Gordon Fung.
Films Starring Sylvia Chang
My Grandfather (O Chun-Hung/1976/84 mins/35mm) After suffering a breakdown at his wife’s funeral, a grief-stricken older man finds that he can only recognize his daughter-in-law. The discovery of a new love seems to improve his faltering health, but more heartbreak awaits just around the corner. The wistful, world-wise film that won Chang her first Golden Horse and due acknowledgement as a serious actress to be reckoned with.
The Dream of the Red Chamber (Li Han Hsiang/1977/108 mins/35mm) Chang, in one of the roles that helped cement her stardom, plays opposite Brigitte Lin in this colorful Shaw Brothers production, an ornate and operatic Huangmeixi musical adaptation of a classic novel of the Qing Dynasty, which has Lin, later a specialist in gender-bending parts, playing the male lead, a young nobleman hopelessly in love with Chang, the sickly daughter of another wealthy family, whom he is forbidden to marry.
Legend of the Mountain (King Hu/1979/191 mins/DCP) Always the maverick, Hu was working entirely independently on Legend of the Mountain, heading into rugged terrain in South Korea to film this atmospheric, hypnotic work suffused with supernatural overtones, which tells the story of a secluded scholar confronted by two seductive specters—including Chang, young and incredibly spry—who threaten to draw his attention away from the sutra he’s struggling to transcribe. One of the purest expressions of Hu’s ethos, in which philosophy and action merge as one.
Aces Go Places (Eric Tsang/1982/93 mins/35mm) Shattering Hong Kong box-office records on release and launching a beloved franchise, the first Aces Go Places is an action-comedy romp filled with jaw-dropping stunts, knee-slapping gags, and spy tech gadgetry. American detective Albert Au and slick cat burglar King Kong (Karl Maka and Sam Hui) team up to bring mysterious villain White Gloves to justice, all while trying to avoid the wrath of Chang’s hot-headed police superintendent.
That Day, on the Beach (Edward Yang/1983/166 mins/35mm) The little-screened debut feature by Yang, the groundbreaking giant of the Taiwanese New Wave, shot by renegade cinematographer Christopher Doyle, features Chang and Terry Hu as two female friends brought together after a thirteen-year separation, their process of catching up illustrated through an innovative flashback structure which shows the director’s flair for formal experimentation already fully in operation.
Shanghai Blues (Tsui Hark/1984/103 mins/35mm) Beginning against the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the inimitable Tsui Hark’s kinetic, ultra-stylish slapstick comedy/ historical romance/ backstage musical is one of the most important works of Hong Kong cinema from the 1980s. It revolves around the star-crossed affair between Kenny Bee’s nightclub clown and young damsel Chang, who meet-cute in a 1937 bombing and plan to find each otherten years later, only to have their reunion in devastated postwar Shanghai elaborately and often hilariously complicated by intervening fate.
All About Ah-Long (Johnnie To/1989/95 mins/35mm) Chang and Chow Yun-fat co-wrote and co-star in To’s robust tearjerker as ex-lovers—and parents of a child—reunited after a decade apart. She’s a successful director based in the U.S. unaware that her baby survived childbirth; he’s a truck driver raising their son alone, trying to rekindle a lost love and win his son a better shot in life by going back into competitive motorbike racing. Bring tissues.
Full Moon in New York (Stanley Kwan/1989/88 mins) Hong Kong cinema’s first openly gay filmmaker, Kwan (Rouge, Center Stage), directs a beautifully-wrought melodrama distilling the experience of Chinese diaspora through the lives of three women living in New York: meek, tradition-minded Mainlander Gaowa Siqin; ruthless Hong Kong businesswoman Maggie Cheung; and Chang’s Taiwan-born would-be actress. A rich and tender portrait of female friendship.
Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke/2015/126 mins/DCP) Chang, herself a specialist in multi-generational stories, is a benevolent guiding spirit in Jia’s own deeply moving, epoch-spanning triptych, which begins with a love triangle in the director’s hometown of Fenyang c. 1999, follows central character Zhao Tao into a prosperous life in the hyper-capitalist wilderness of 2014, then catches up with her estranged son, Dollar (Dong Zijan), in his new home in the Australia of 2025, as he seeks nurturing and understanding from Chang’s older teacher.
Office (Johnnie To/2015/119 mins/3D DCP) Chang reunited Johnnie To, primarily known for his action movies, to create the remarkable Office, a stylish, buoyant musical shot in 3D featuring grand, eye-popping set design reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s classic Playtime. Adapted by Chang from her own stage play, Office takes place in an exquisitely realized high-rise where two new assistants attempt to climb the corporate ladder and please the head honcho—a wickedly imperious Chang.
Films Directed by Sylvia Chang
Xiao Yu (Sylvia Chang/1995/104 mins/35mm) Chang directed René Liu, in her film debut, to an award-winning star turn as a Chinese girl who arranges for a mock marriage with an older American alcoholic (Daniel J. Travanti) in order to stay on with her boyfriend in New York. A strikingly compassionate drama that shows a rare understanding of both the immigrant plight and the bittersweet disappointments of old age, with top flight performances by both leads.
Tempting Heart (Sylvia Chang/1999/115 mins/35mm) Playfully referencing its director/ star’s lengthy career, Tempting Heart is a tender melodrama features Chang as a filmmaker who, in preparing to shoot a romance, finds herself transported back to the memory of an old affair in the 1970s—Gigi Leung plays the teenaged Chang character, with Takeshi Kaneshiro her former flame, and Karen Mok the best friend and confidante who loves her, too.
20:30:40 (Sylvia Chang/2004/113 mins/35mm) Twenty-year-old Xiao Jie (Sinje Lee) is a Malaysian dreaming of pop stardom; thirty-year-old Xiang Xiang (Rene Liu) is a flight attendant sorting out a complicated love life; forty-year-old Lily (Chang) is a recent divorcee negotiating single life. Chang returns to a guiding preoccupation of her directorial career, generational schisms, with this personal drama of three Taipei women at three different milestone ages, distinguished by pitch-perfect performances and rare delicacy of feeling.
Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang/2015/119 mins/DCP) A painter (Isabella Leong) raised on an isolated island off the Taiwan coast but now living in Taipei with an aspiring boxer boyfriend (Joseph Chang) struggles to reconcile herself to her conflicted relationship with her late, absentee mother, working through the memories with her travel agent brother (Lawrence Ko). A poignant, profoundly emotional drama, and a sumptuous tribute by Chang to her homeland.
Love Education (Sylvia Chang/2017/120 mins/DCP) - New York Premiere! Into her fourth decade in the film industry—displaying a longevity almost unknown for actresses in Chinese-language cinema, or for that matter anywhere else—survivor Chang has a unique understanding of how times change, a subject at the heart of this sensitive story of a teacher near retirement (Chang) drawn into a squabble with her mother’s husband’s first wife (Wu Yanshu) over where to bury the man’s remains, all while observing the professional and romantic travails of her TV producer daughter (Lang Yueting).