Filmmaker in Focus - Hsiao Ya-Chuan
“When I filmed Mirror Image in 2000, I was in my 30s, and I used destiny as sarcasm to question life. In my 50s, I accepted life might be 90 to 95% repeated from what our parents have done, and our parents repeated those from thousand years ago, so many similarities in what makes human happy, sad and angry."
All of Hsiao's films do not lack the poetic and artistic elements, but at the same time entertaining and easy to digest. Hsiao often uses humour and sarcasm to tackles some of the social issues. They don't fit into a specific genre for specific audiences.
But instead, it's merely for those who are willing to watch, as if it's part of destiny you meant to see these films.
Hsiao carefully crafted all his works, almost one film for every ten years, each of them deeply engraved his own life experiences and statues during the time he made the film. It's like his journal, memoirs in the searching for the definition of life.
Mirror image – A thunderstorm without a raindrop
Tung-Ching, a pawnshop owner's son, gets into a motorbike accident that scratched off his palm print. When his life takes a drastic turn, his girlfriend Eiko, a palm-reading enthusiast, is convinced that he needs to retrieve his palm print to take back control of his life. Mirror Image captured the uncertainty of the millennial generation.
The locations in the film are simple, mostly shot in a traditional pawnshop with the classic iron window and the stairs with red handrail; they represented the conflict between the two generations, with a bit of surrealism which fit well with this film's slice of life. Mirror image is like the first chapter of Hsiao's trilogy that opens up many topics; such as past versus future, city versus country, middle-class versus others.
Hsiao seems to have a desire to create a space as a multi-purpose dimension in all his works. A pawn shop is a place for exchange but also a collision between the two generations. The coffee shop in Taipei Exchanges, multicultural with people from all around the world to exchange something with the shop. The hardware store in Father to Son, a three-floor apartment that has an impluvium. It's spacious but at the same time closed up, as if saying Taiwan's society is like that as well. One of the classics an iconic scene in Mirror Image, defiantly is the Taipei Metro, a place that every Taiwanese is familiar. This unexpected scene in the carriage brings creativity and novelty to the audience.
Mirror Image was well praised and recognized by the international film festival such as Cannes and Torino. But ironically wasn't well known by the audiences in Taiwan, it only lasts for two weeks in the cinemas. The education of arts in Taiwan was wipe out for many generations, as the government solely focus on the growth of the economy. “I'm not saying Taiwanese doesn't understand my film, but I think it's going to take many generations to rebuild the society and cultures with its aesthetic vision and voices." said, director Hsiao.
Taipei Exchanges - The confusion among every urbanite
Doris and Josie are sisters as well as the owners of a coffee shop. They have similar personalities but different destinies. Doris forced to study and to give up her dream. Josie went overseas to travel and forced to drop out of school. They admire each other's life and meanwhile struggle with their own.
Taipei Exchanges has no dramatic plots but a beautiful and straightforward slice of life in Taipei. But underneath all these comfort and beauty, there seems to be an emptiness in all. Exchange stories seem to be rewarding at first, but after all, they don't get to tell their own stories to exchange with customers. The life stage of the urbanite was uncertain, unsettled and confusing.
“When I filmed Taipei Exchanges, my life stage was fairly stable. I stopped questioning a lot and just follow my instinct. I question more when I filmed Mirror Image and Father to Son than I had in my 40s. It all reflects my personal life's status" said director Hsiao.
Father to Son - the middle age crisis' anxiety
The title of Father to Son directly points out that the story is about a father and a son. Van Pao-Te, the owner of the hardware shop, represents a typical Taiwanese father who contributes his whole life to his career. It seems Van is somehow incomplete, but his son hardly understands the reason. There is no clear explanation about why and what the unfinished puzzle is until the end of the film. They, from different generations, correlate to each other. “The stories in the future are hidden in the past, vice versa."
When it comes to New Wave Cinemas in Taiwan, as a middle-aged filmmaker, Hsiao is hardly not influenced by the legend like Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. But he manages to create his unique style that balance between arts and commerce.
“Hou Hsiao-Hsien is like my mentor in life and admire him a lot on his attitude towards life and people. He respects everyone equally, and this reflects in all his films. But when it comes to aesthetics and style, I think all creators refused to be influenced by others. I tend to create my style which is different from other role models" said, director Hsiao.
About the future on Taiwanese cinemas, “I think there should be more local films in the Taiwanese cinemas. Local films help us search for values, revalue the culture, and build a better education on arts. There is no conflict between international or Hollywood films. But it's important not to have one of them but all of them. I think Taiwan is heading in the right direction, but it's going to take many generations to rebuild the education on arts. It's not going to be easy nor quick to fix." said, director Hsiao.
Mirror Image, Taipei Exchanges, and Father to Son streaming on-demand until 30 July 2020. Watch now!