Anthology Film Archives

“Hsin Chi: New and Innovative” Exhibition – Post-screening Discussions

In July 2020, Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TAIF) conducted a touring film festival, “Hsin Chi––New and Unique,” showing five movies by the Taiwanese director Hsin Chin at locations around the island. Included were Encounter at the Station (1965), The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell (1965), Foolish Bride, Naive Bridegroom (1967), The Rice Dumpling Vendors (1969), and Dangerous Youth (1969), all products of TAIF's film restoration project. The tour kicked off at Taipei’s SPOT Huashan Cinema, and in the following half-year visited a succession of theaters in central, south, and east Taiwan. Following the screenings, a panel of Taiyu (Taiwanese language) film scholars, including Wang Wan Jui, Su Chih-heng, Lin Kuei-chang, Chen Ju Yin, and Women Make Wave International Film Festival Director Lo Peicha discussed and analyzed the films. Former child star Tai Pei-shan also took part in one talk, sharing stories and anecdotes.

The remarkable A-lan and female roles – The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell
Presented by Wang Wan Jui and Chen Ruiying

“My feeling is, ‘Japanese anime has Conan [a boy detective], and Taiyu movies have A-lan,” Wang Wan Jui said. When all the other characters are focused on Pai Jui-mei’s (played by Chin Mei) search for her sister, from beginning to end, A-lan (played by Tai Pei-shan) is the most clear-headed among them. From the start, she provides many hints. For example, when Jui-mei, the governess, arrives at her new working environment, A-lan is nearby, singing a song. Hsin Chi takes a close-up of the girl, head-to-toe, first a direct frontal shot, then moves to a rearview before pulling back. In the opening scene, the camera lingers on the girl, imparting an intangible, ineffable resonance. Tracking A-lan, we find that when Feng-chiao appears, the girl hides behind other people or moves off to the side, beyond the frame, staring at the others. It's a rare instance of a detective story told from a little girl’s point of view in a Taiyu film.

Wang Wan Jui noted that female crying scenes are indispensable, a hallmark of Taiyu films and popular dramas. Tai Pei-shan performs brilliantly, weeping inconsolably. But A-lan is also very brave. In the final climactic scene, everyone is holding a flashlight; she’s the only person who doesn’t need one. When no adults are present, she relies on her own ingenuity.

The film also reveals society’s expectations of women. In an era of film review boards, the Cold War, and martial law, the family structure required females to marry and produce children; only then would their lives be complete. Kids often lose their mothers in Taiyu movies, and what Wang Yi-ming wants is not a woman who loves him but one who will be a mother to his child. At the outset, Jui-mei has no interest in romance. However, Shu-yuan wants a mother, and Jui-mei shows her maternal affection. Only later do Ju-mei and Yi-ming form an emotional connection. Which, then, has a higher value, romantic love or motherhood? It’s a question for audiences to ponder.

Textual adaptation and Taiyu film––Encounter at the Station
Presented by Su Chih-heng and Chen Jui Yin.

Taiyu movies were in vogue from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. Encounter at the Station was released in September 1965, at the peak period of the second wave of Taiyu films’ popularity. The story was adapted from Warm and Cold World, a 1959 novel by Chin Hsing-chih (researchers later found that the work was a combined republication of a two-volume 1956 novel, Bar Girl). Contemporary newspapers advertised the film as “a tragic and touching story of love and ethics, a blockbuster drama.” As Su Chih-heng has pointed out, the meaning of “drama” at that time was different from our current definition and can be more appropriately understood as “romance.”

Encounter tells the story of a young man and woman from different social classes who, despite family disapproval, ultimately overcome all obstacles and marry. The picture employs two elements often seen in popular dramas. The first is “affliction.” The male protagonist loses his mind, his girlfriend goes blind, and his wife succumbs to depression and dies. “Blindness” is a script addition not found in the novel. Music is the second element. Besides the score accompanying the opening and closing credits, there are four songs. The first celebrates the lovers as they frolic outdoors. The second contrasts the two women in the love triangle (one has given birth to a child and is happy, while the other is a lonely adopted daughter). The third laments the parting of mother and child, and the last highlights the main characters’ suffering. Using music to advance the narrative at critical moments is a standard device in popular dramas.

Su Chih-heng praised Hsin Chi’s use of mise-en-scene and camera techniques, especially in scenes where two women confront each other (in the first, the hero’s mother drives the heroine away; in the second, the hero’s wife seeks out his lover, hoping to reason with her). Camera angles indicate relative power and status, a kind of coded symbolism. Chen Jui Yin lauded Hsin Chi’s use of small props. Whether it’s a loose pile of cash, a necklace the hero gives to the heroine, or a bar girl’s high-heels, these seemingly ordinary items are exquisitely presented, coded messages audiences understand immediately.

The farce that flipped the script on Taiyu comedies – Foolish Bride, Naïve Bridegroom
Presented by Lo Peicha and Chen Jui Yin

Chen Jui Yin called this comedy’s script the most remarkable comedy script she’s ever seen. The 1967 film’s absurd plot, inverted themes, and overturned stereotypes can still leave us in stitches, even when viewed from today’s perspective. Its nonstop jokes and gags continue to surprise and delight viewers. That’s not to mention the “marriage court” and the “fighting date” in the film's latter half, both masterfully scripted and executed.

The film also gives audiences a look at traditional feudal parents, played by Chin Tu and Yang Yueh-fan. They’re of relatively low social status, and both are heads of single-parent households. Chin Mei and Shih Chun play Kuei-chih and Wen-de, a young woman and man who yearn for “free love”––the right to marry a partner of one’s choosing, as opposed to an arranged marriage––but trouble starts when their parents interfere. The film brims with Hsin Chi’s ingenuity. In addition to echoing social trends of the time, such as the quest for romantic autonomy, he also subverts the Taiyu rom-com genre, overturning the traditional family hierarchy and prescribed gender roles. That’s why Hsin Chi’s films are “new and innovative.”

A career begins by coincidence­ – The Rice Dumpling Vendors
Presented by Tai Pei-shan and Chen Rui Yin

Inspired by a news item, this family drama tells the story of an errant husband who's trying to mend his ways. When he mistakenly accuses his wife of adultery, she leaves home and strikes out on her own. After much suffering, all is resolved in the end, and the family happily reunites. Director Hsin Chi’s consummate technical skills are on full display, and child star Tai Pei-shan’s superb acting is equally impressive. For the post-screening discussion, we invited Ms. Tai to share stories and anecdotes from her film career.

Tai Pei-shan became a child star by coincidence. In her screen debut, Old Love, she landed the part of the heroine's child because the original actress, the daughter of a Chiayi theater owner, couldn’t get used to the sound of the camera on the set. Ms. Tai grew up with movies and television and didn’t mind the noise, so the role fell to her, the beginning of her ascent to stardom. Because Taiyu films often required many extras, actors’ relatives were frequently recruited to fill those slots. Thus there was always much happy talk and laughter on the set. In The Rice Dumpling Vendors, the “schoolmate” gleaning rice with Ms. Tai’s character was the actress's cousin, and the man portraying a thug was her uncle. Even the film crew’s make-up artist had a bit part. Ms. Tai’s relatives attended the screening to see what they looked like as children.

Child stars were well paid in those days. After appearing in several popular movies, Ms.Tai chose to end her acting career, which had begun at age four. She made her final appearance in The Rice Dumpling Vendors, filmed when she was eleven years old. China Television wanted to sign her to a contract at the time, but she felt that acting had hampered her scholastically and elected to return to her studies. Moreover, her interest in life as a performer had dwindled. After leaving the big screen, she stayed in touch with other child stars of that era. Today they still maintain the half-century friendship, perhaps the biggest bonus of Ms. Tai’s film career.

A link with Japan’s “sun tribe” films – Dangerous Youth
Presented by Lin Kuei-chang and Chen Jui Yin

In his master’s thesis, Lin Kuei-chang noted that, to a certain degree, Dangerous Youth could be linked with Japan’s “sun tribe” films. Unrelated to Japan’s “rising sun” flag or Japanese imperialism, the genre grew out of a 1950s novel, Season of the Sun. A story of violent and rebellious youth, the work nakedly depicted casual sex and brutal violence, stirring public controversy. Because author Shintaro Ishihara accurately portrayed postwar Japanese youths’ sense of dejection and powerlessness, as well as their customs and trends, young people of that era started calling themselves “the sun tribe,” setting off a wave. The Nikkatsu Film Company’s 1955 adaptation of Ishihara’s novel was a box-office smash. When the trend spread to Taiwan, local media called the films “hoodlum movies” due to their provocative, anti-social, and violent content.

French New Wave films reached Japan at roughly the same time, where the style was combined with sun-tribe aesthetics, creating a Japanese New Wave movement when directors developed and popularized the hybrid style. Works such as Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth showed Lin Kuei-chang that Taiyu films had been influenced by Japanese movies and international trends.

If you compare Cruel Story of Youth and Dangerous Youth, you’ll find disorderly urban youths, sugar daddies eliciting sexual favors from younger women, kids from broken homes, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and abortions in both films. Lin Kuei-chang believes it’s worthwhile to explore the relationship between the two, provided that the films' endings are the basis for comparison. The Japanese protagonists can't escape their chaotic lives and die tragically, while Dangerous Youth gives its characters and their tangled relationships room to grow, the possibility of redemption. Thus, Hsin Chi brought Taiwanese thinking and values to the script, making corresponding plot adjustments. Chen Jui Yin noted that perhaps the director was possessed of a gentleman's refined temperament, a throwback to an earlier time, or that the era's social values had influenced the plot’s direction.

[Article translated by Robert Fox]