55 Great Directors: Hou Hsiao-Hsien

“It seemed clear to me what determines each shot: the point of view, the objectivity, and the subjectivity of the character, what the actor sees. Who sees what? I thought, ‘I’ve got it!’ I understood that three viewpoints make up each film: 1) that of the director, what the director thinks or sees, and 2) that of the character, what the actor thinks or sees. That’s all. Only two viewpoints.”

What Got This Director Here?
: Body of work, mostly City of Sadness.

My Favorite Past Experience Was…: The Assassin.

What Did I Watch: Flight of the Red Balloon and Three Times.

Where Does He Fit: Flight of the Red Balloon’s debt to the Lamorisse short that I find perhaps a little too cutesy for my liking might just be a hindrance that I can’t quite get over, because everything else is lovely. Binoche’s messy apartment is a marvel of creative space usage to demonstrate how all her clutter reveals a woman who is secretly…well, hard to say. Is she a character in a film in her own right? Is this an act of autobiography with Hou’s role being played by a woman? Meta readings are easy and fun with a work like this even if I wish some of the references to the short were toned down.


Three Times opens with a shot that’s pure Hou: a long take on a game of pool, following the ball as Smoke Gets In Your Eyes plays. It’s a little too perfect, and thus the odd chronology of love that is three stories tied together feels a bit thinned out. A terrific movie with a structure that seems fun to lift from (Barry Jenkins won an Oscar for doing just that in his own way), and Shu Qi’s performance is perfectly chameleon like in the best tradition of pop stars. (It might be even better than her oddball work in The Assassin.) Turns out the most cinematic of songs can provide a lift at any time.


Most Valuable Asset: Long takes and poetic playfulness.
Most Excited For: City of Sadness.
Did They Deserve a Spot?: Yes.

Coming Up Next: Terrence Malick, who went from infrequent to frequent.


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