The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Culture, Style, Voice, and Motion

by Christopher Lupke


"Well-researched and sensitively written, The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien expands our knowledge about Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films in important ways. Lupke’s literary expertise and bi-lingual/bi-cultural knowledge, in particular, allow him not only to identify various literary sources and influence (including intertextual connections), but also to engage with the twin issues of culture and style with rigor and balance. ... deeply detailed ... lucidly written and convincingly argued. Like all good critics, Lupke makes one want to (re)watch the films with new attention and enriched understanding. Undoubtedly the book is an important addition to the existing scholarship on Hou Hsiao-hsien. Its emphasis on thematic and cultural aspects of Hou’s films counterbalances the tendency towards a purely formalist approach." —Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

"In plain, jargon-free language replete with astute insights garnered from decades of scholarly engagement with the films of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Taiwanese cinematic and literary culture, Lupke sets out to lift the veil of the technical finesse and structural ambiguity that enshrouds much of Hou’s oeuvre and frequently frustrates film spectators. In this endeavor alone, Lupke succeeds brilliantly. … Lupke not only demonstrates his astute familiarity with Hou Hsiao-hsien scholarship, which he critically engages with throughout the study, but also reveals his intense familiarity with lesser known yet highly insightful details about Hou’s relationship with his collaborators Zhu Tianwen and Wu Nianzhen. … Lupke further expands the scope of the study by reading Hou’s work in relation to the films of the venerated Japanese director [Ozu Yasujiro] with whom (as is often noted) Hou at times shares a certain topical and stylistic affinity. … Lupke convincingly illustrates how both directors’ films manifest “the crisis of filiality in post-war East Asian society” (105) … Cambria Press needs to be applauded for agreeing to include so many of them [images], as well as a comprehensive Chinese character glossary and a complete and detailed Hou Hsiao-hsien feature-length filmography. … Lupke’s study provides us with an abundance of insights and a wealth of information, it also will stimulate students and scholars to take their own studies of Hou’s cinematic aesthetics into new directions." –Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

"A well-informed book straddling between the disciplines of Chinese Studies and Film Studies and is highly relevant to film buffs, sinophiles, film researchers, and students. ... the book provides Chinese speaking readers a cinematic approach to Hou’s well-known and less well-known works and non-Chinese speaking readers a holistic view on Hou’s works and a window into Chinese-language scholarship on Hou. By detaching Hou Hsiao-hsien’s works from the frequently-used framework of European arthouse tradition, the book strives to move away from a Eurocentric view and delves deep into film texts. Plot summary is detailed; historical settings and socio-political undertone are foregrounded. ... The ambition of balancing between Chinese Studies and Film Studies and between textual analysis, contextual information, and theoretical discussion is also rather difficult to achieve. Yet the book remains an enjoyable read for lovers of Hou’s films and a comprehensive and informative guide to the sinophone world of Hou Hsiao-hsien; it bridges the scholarship on Hou in English and Chinese and embraces Hou’s oeuvres in its entirety." —Film International

“Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s body of work is marked by innovation, understated beauty, and the wonder and mystery of film art in its truest sense. Featuring rare interviews and sophisticated analysis, The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien by Christopher Lupke sheds light on Hou’s narrative innovations and aesthetic triumphs while, along the way, unlocking some of the mysteries lurking behind one of the greatest bodies of cinematic work ever produced.” – Michael Berry, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara; and author of A History of Pain and Speaking in Images

"Why do we need another book on Hou Hsiao-Hsien? Christopher Lupke’s The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-Hsien answers that question eloquently. Why now? It cannot be a more timely publication on Hou in the whirlwind interest in his works following the Cannes Film Festival win of Best Director in 2015. Twenty-five years after A City of Sadness took the top prize at Venice Film Festival in 1989, Hou, one of the most revered auteurs, stuns the global art cinema once again with his highly acclaimed and—borrowing one of Lupke’s most used words describing Hou’s oeuvres—“idiosyncratic” masterpieces to date, The Assassin. A whole new generation of film lovers must get to know this master of cinema, and loyal fans of Hou’s need to know him anew. Lupke’s book does just that. The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-Hsien provides comprehensive coverage, detailed contextualization, and insightful analysis from Hou’s earliest works to his most recent accomplishment. The narrative is particularly compelling because it weaves cultural and social contexts and filmic texts together, and it brings various formal elements (image, editing, language, music) to bear upon one another. The book also includes careful comparison with another East Asian auteur Ozu as well as delineating the creative synergy between Hou and his long-term collaborator, famed Taiwan writer, Zhu Tianwen. All done in a clear and accessible prose, Lupke’s book is a significant addition to the world of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s cinema that will continue to fascinate and illuminate us for many years to come.” – Guo-juin Hong, Associate Professor of Chinese and Cinema Studies, Duke University; and author of Taiwan Cinema: A Contested Nation on Screen

"Lupke's comprehensive and original study brings important new insights to the growing body of academic work on celebrated Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. Interweaving biographical contexts with critical film analysis, Lupke excavates the literary inspirations of Hou’s filmmaking, showing how Wu Nianzhen, Shen Congwen, and especially Zhu Tianwen shape his philosophy and aesthetic. Lupke also compares Hou Hsiao-hsien with Ozu Yasujiro, illuminating the distinct ethical and stylistic attributes of these two major Asian directors. In Lupke’s convincing account, the anti-filial behaviors of their characters, which have attracted little critical attention, are the key to understanding their shared concern for the visible dissolution of the family in the modern world. In addition to its lucid analysis, this book contextualizes the filmmaking history of Hou in ways that illustrate the cultural and political significance of studying Taiwan Cinema in a global context. Written in a fluent, eloquent, and jargon-free style, Lupke’s book will appeal to general readers as well as East Asian Studies and film students interested in Sinophone cinema.” – Hsiu-Chuang Deppman, Associate Professor of Chinese and Cinema Studies, Oberlin College; and author of Adapted for the Screen: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Fiction and Film

"The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien is an informative, engaging, and insightful exploration of the cinema of one of the world’s greatest living film directors. Serving both as an excellent comprehensive introduction to the filmmaker and as a series of in-depth readings, this book covers the full range of Hou’s work, focusing in particular on some of his landmark films from each stage of his career. Writing clearly and elegantly, Christopher Lupke strikes a careful balance between explicating Hou’s stylistic innovations and providing detailed context for his films’ stories and themes from Chinese and Taiwanese cultural and political history. Lupke perceptively relates Hou’s films to both literary and cinematic antecedents. Aside from Hou’s well-known connection to Taiwan’s 'native soil' literature, the author here highlights as well the filmmaker’s debt to earlier mainland Chinese authors such as Shen Congwen, Zhang Ailing, and Hu Lancheng. An entire chapter is devoted to a comparative study of Hou and Japanese film auteur Yasujiro Ozu, addressing not just their similarities in terms of cinematic technique but also their thematic and cultural affinities. Throughout the book, Hou’s singular contribution to film aesthetics, summarized as 'stasis within motion,' comes through vividly and convincingly." – Jason McGrath, Associate Professor of Chinese and Cinema Studies, University of Minnesota; and author of Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age

”The book’s focus … on Chu Tien-wen’s momentous role and how her perspective shapes many of Hou’s films … is long overdue, and Lupke is to be commended for highlighting her contributions and dovetailing that with numerous insights from her own literature. Lupke’s firm grounding in literature reemerges towards the end of the book when talking about The Assassin … [The] chapter comparing Hou and [Yasujiro] Ozu is also a pleasant surprise. Lupke avoids facile comparisons that have been made in the past, acknowledging how different the two directors are, but he also does an excellent job noting where they most converge, an issue of core concern for Lupke: ‘filiality.’ … What Lupke is after is perfectly legitimate … The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien does provide some insights on certain issues regarding Hou Hsiao-hsien, not to mention the fact that it also provides excellent translations of interviews of Hou that were originally in Chinese.” —China Quarterly


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