Curated by Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd from the Art Gallery of NSW and joined by Festival Director Benson as program advisor. Presented on rare 35 film prints, Neon gods runs in association with the exhibition Heaven and earth in Chinese art: treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei in Sydney from February to May 2019. This exciting retrospective showcases a wide range of Taiwanese cinema from 1970 to 2016, spanning the first flourishing of a native Taiwanese cinema to the innovations of the new wave generation. This is a rare opportunity to witness amazing transformations in cinematography and storytelling across the decades.
Brief history of Taiwanese cinemas
Vitascope was introduced during the years that Taiwan was occupied by Japan from 1895 to 1945. Official public screenings featuring the Cinématographe weren’t introduced to Taiwan until 1900. These were propaganda films to promote Japanese culture and tourism newsreels intended to bring more Japanese into Taiwan.
After World War II in 1945, Japan handed over Taiwan to the Republic of China ruled by the Kuo-Min-Tang party (aka KMT party). It was not until 1954 that Taiwanese cinema had the chance to rebuild and start film production again, albeit still in a propagandistic mode controlled by the KMT party. Nonetheless, this was an opportunity for a native cinematic industry to develop in Taiwan. The first generation of filmmakers included Ching-Jui Pai (白景瑞), King Hu(胡金銓), Hsing Li (李行), and Has-Hsiang Li (李翰祥). The golden years of the first-generation of Taiwanese cinemas spanned the period 1965 - 1974. Two masterpieces from this period will be shown in Neon gods.
A Touch of Zen (1971) directed by King Hu
Won Technical Grand Prize and nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, A Touch of Zen is certainly the godfather of martial arts- wuxia genre cinemas. The film was made after Hu’s huge commercial success, Dragon Inn (1967). Unlike his previous works that focus on few central characters and fighting scenes, Director Hu developed A Touch of Zen to be more complex, blending diverse cinematic elements, and of course more exciting fighting scenes than ever. The iconic fighting scene in the bamboo forest has influenced and inspired many directors includes Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, and Tsui Hark. Not only is it fun to watch, you are most likely to get inspired too.
The End of the Track (1970) directed by Tun-Fei Mou
A true masterpiece that never got the chance to screen until 50 years after. During 1960-1980, most media were controlled by the KMT government and all contents had to go through the approval process before general release. Then, of course, The End of the Track did not get the approval to be released. We can’t be certain about why, but we can guess the realism of society (poor vs rich) and two boys’ friendship was so close that were called homosexual by their classmates, were some of the obvious reasons (to use the word homosexual was a taboo in Taiwan in 1970). The End of the Track is done professionally with its stunning cinematography, attention to detail, realistic narrative and sensitivity to the deep emotions between characters. You can perhaps sense some similarities and styles from this film with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Hsiao-hsien Hou’s The Boys from Fengkuei (1983). 10/10 for sure, highly recommended.
Full Program: Here
Tickets: available outside the Domain Theatre from one hour before each screening. Arrive early to avoid disappointment. A small number of early bird tickets can be booked in advance online via Qtix from Monday 11 February 10am.
Artgallery.nsw.gov.au. (2019). Film series: Neon gods :: Art Gallery NSW. [online] Available at: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/calendar/neon-gods/.
Tcdrp.tfi.org.tw. (2019). 臺灣電影數位修復計劃-計畫簡介. [online] Available at: http://tcdrp.tfi.org.tw/achieve.asp?Y_No=5&M_ID=11.
半, 瓶. (n.d.). 胡金銓的武俠電影經典《俠女》. [online] Tfi.org.tw. Available at: https://www.tfi.org.tw/Content/TFI/PublicInfo/6-3胡金銓的武俠電影經典俠女.pdf.
Huang, j. (2005). The Chronicle of Taiwan Cinema, 1898-2000. 1st ed. Taipei: 行政院文化建設委員會.
Written by Benson Wu, Edited by Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd