Anthology Film Archives


by WANG Wan Jui, Assistant Professor, National Chung Cheng University Institute of Taiwanese Literature and Innovation

Film director Hsin Chi (1924-2010) was born Hsin Chin Chuan (辛金傳).  The pseudonym “Hsin Chi” is homonymous with the Taiwanese “new and unique” (新奇), qualities reflected in the director’s style, as critic Huang Ren has observed. Hsin Chi came of age in Taipei’s Wanhua district. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors––Taiwanese directors He Chih-ming (1917-1994), Shao Luo-hui (1919-1993), Lin Tuan-Chiu (1920–1998)––he left for Japan to study film production techniques such as lighting, makeup, stage design, and directing in 1942. However, he returned to Taiwan in 1944 due to the increasingly fraught situation in WWII's Asia-Pacific theater. Nevertheless, the political and economic changes brought about by the war didn’t hamper his dream of making movies. The box-office hit Rainy Night Flower (1956) marked his official debut, the beginning of a prolific career in the golden era of taiyupian (Taiwanese-language cinema). Over the course of twenty years, he directed more than fifty films, winning himself a place in the pantheon of great Taiwanese filmmakers. In 2000, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Golden Horse Awards.

The exhibition’s five digitally restored films date from 1965-1969. They include Encounter at the Station (1965), The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell (1965), Foolish Bride, Naïve Bridegroom (1967), The Rice Dumpling Vendors (1969), and Dangerous Youth (1969). Accounting for over half of the eight Hsin Chi works currently preserved by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), the films are both “new” and “innovative.” What’s new about 1960s’ taiyupian? First, the freshness of Hsin Chi’s work rests on the success of TFAI’s ongoing restoration project. It’s a sheer coincidence that the celluloid reels are still with us today. When Dadu Film Company was clearing out its warehouse in 1989, a trove of precious but mottled taiyupian films was discovered, facilitating digital restoration of Hsin Chi's richly detailed negatives. TFAI had previously released DVD editions of films by directors such as King Hu and Lin Tuan-Chiu. In addition, it has also restored dozens of classic feature films and documentaries, preserving the works of Taiwan’s finest filmmakers for posterity.

Second, Hsin Chi’s five digitally restored films are generically innovative among early Taiwanese black-and-white movie, encompassing sub-genres such as horror, thriller, family melodrama, romantic comedy, and critical realism. In retrospect, his work to a certain extent reflects typical characteristics of the period: literary treatments of popular narratives, dramatic tension, and use of mise-en-scène. If the history of cinema is an old movie theater in which films need to be constantly reshown, then Hsin Chi’s movies are reels that have been recovered, restored and recolored, re-illuminating the screen with past ways of telling stories. According to Paolo Cherchi Usai, film history is built on the concept of never-ending retrospection. Finding iconic images among those of the vanishing past helps us understand the significance of film history as a cultural product. Thus, Hsin Chi’s films are “new” and “innovative” not because they’ve never been shown, but because they’re riding the cultural turn’s digital wave, returning the flickering light of a bygone era to today’s big screen.

Adapted from a translation of the British Gothic romance Mistress of Mellyn, The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell injects complex emotional relationships into everyday middle-class life, following the doubtful and suspicious male and female protagonists through the Western-style brick buildings and abandoned Buddhist temples of Taipei’s Danshui district. At the heart of the narrative is a female governess, a role seldom seen in taiyupian films. When the young woman comes up against the era’s social strictures, ghosts of lingering resentments trigger resistance to patriarchal authority. The film’s fright-inducing visuals are the product of Hsin Chi’s meticulously designed mise-en-scene and deft camera work combined with the immersive effect of weird, synchronized sounds and images, echoing classic Hollywood horror films.

While The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell was an adaptation of a Western romance, Encounter at the Station derives from Cold and Warm World, a Taiwanese novel by Ching Hsing-chih that was a hit with women of that period. Like the book, the film revolves around the love between the scion of a wealthy family and a bar girl, a relationship that transcends class barriers. But the setting, which was moved from Taipei to the central Taiwan cities of Taichung and Fengyuan, carries even more specific implications. In recurring scenes, the Taichung train station serves as a metaphor for modernity, highlighting the restrictions imposed by class differences and gender stereotypes. In popular family dramas, true love must be temporarily sacrificed to class differences. Only by standing the test of time or passing through the crucible of life and death can it be fully realized.

Foolish Bride, Naïve Bridegroom is an outlier among taiyupian romantic comedies, most of which end tragically. Actress Chin Mei plays an innocent, romantic young woman who believes that true love is invincible while leading man Shih Chun is cast as her weak and hapless boyfriend. The film offers an alternative interpretation of “free love,” the liberty to choose one’s own romantic partner. As it turns out, the boy’s father and the girl’s mother were once romantically involved, but the relationship ended bitterly. Consequently, the parents vehemently disapprove of the match. The picture ends happily, though, when all reconcile and the two families become in-laws. Although the film seemingly satirizes parental conservatism, it doesn’t shy away from passionate hugging and kissing scenes, one of the few taiyupian comedies to depict the impulsive nature of sexual desire.

Originally released under a different title, The Rice Dumpling Vendors was inspired by a news item. The above three films focus on the psychological changes female protagonists undergo, but this picture centers on an incompetent, wayward father, played by Yang Ming, and his relationship with his daughter. The husband is free to play around, but when his wife is tricked by an unscrupulous man, she’s condemned as an adulteress. Although the film is built around traditional gender consciousness, child star Tai Pei-shan turns in an outstanding debut performance as the daughter. Paired with Liu Fu-chu’s song of the same name, The Rice Dumpling Vendors concludes with a joyous tear-filled family reunion, an ending typical of taiyupian melodrama.

Dangerous Youth explores heterosexual love and desire. The triangular relationship between Kui-yuan, Yu-chan, and Ching-mei is alive with the push-and-pull of emotions, sensuality, money, status, and family values. Its social realist style is uncommon among taiyupian films. Well-rounded female characters and sharp dialogue convey the restless kinetic energy of a transitional period in capitalist development. Hsin Chi examines people's uncertainties and choices as traditional values of marriage, childrearing, and love collapse.  Set in Hong Kong, the film shifts the urban-rural gap of later taiyupian films to an imaginary transnational space, implicitly poking fun at the “cold war” between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In addition to generic diversity, star performances are another of the five films' highlights. The heroines in four pictures are played by Chin Mei, co-starring with some of the day’s most popular leading men––Yang Ming, Shih Chun, and Ke Chun-hsiong. Chin Mei and the actress Pai Lan vied for top billings in the 1960s.  On the big screen, Chin Mei usually played tragic roles, evinced in close-ups in Encounter at the Station and The Rice Dumpling Vendors. But she also starred as the decisive and courageous governess in search of the truth in The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell and a passionate young woman who charges straight into the tiger’s lair to share affections with the man she loves in Foolish Bride, Naïve Bridegroom.

In that picture, she abandons the forlorn bar girl and deserted wife images. Instead, she plays a cheerful comedic character, mischievous and unrestrained, who expresses herself in vivid language. Chin Mei's slightly exaggerated performance and the shyness and passivity of co-star Shih Jun's character combine to flip the script on the stereotypic "strong man and weak woman” formula common to taiyupian films. Hsin Chi once said: “Although the golden age of Taiwanese films has passed, in the end, our hard work produced lasting results.” The exhibition’s five digitally restored films are shining examples of film genre, outstanding acting, and re-presentation of urban and rural landscapes. Behind the sound and images of these resurrected treasures lie the history of film, the history of geographic space, and the history of the people of Taiwan.

[Article translated by Robert Fox]