Tuesday, February 1, 2011

City of Sadness Named Greatest Chinese Film

The Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, organisers of the prestigious Golden Horse Awards, have announced the 100 Greatest Chinese-language Films. The Taiwanese historical drama A City of Sadness (悲情城市) was voted number one. Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (侯孝贤, pinyin: Hóu Xiàoxián), the film is set in 1947 (the year Hou was born) and depicts the events that followed after the defeated Kuomintang Government fled mainland China and arrived in Taiwan. The film focuses on the impact on one family of the "White Terror" wreaked by the Kuomintang.

The 100 Greatest Films was compiled through a survey of over 120 Chinese film critics, academics, producers, directors, actors and writers. Ironically, A City of Sadness failed to win the Golden Horse Award when it was released, although it did pick up the Golden Lion Award at the 1989 Venice Film Festival. Five years ago, when the Hong Kong Film Awards named their similar Best 100 Chinese Films, City of Sadness was at number 5. The Hong Kong Film Awards instead named the 1948 mainland film Spring in a Small Town (小城之春) at number 1 (which in turn is number 5 on the Golden Horse list).

A City of Sadness director Hou Hsiao-Hsien was a favourite with voters, three of his films being named in the top ten. Besides A City of Sadness, the 1985 autobiographical coming-of-age film A Time to Live, A Time to Die (童年往事) was ranked number 3, and its sequel Dust in the Wind (恋恋风尘) was at equal 7. In total, Hou had seven films in the top 100, more than any other director.

Just pipped for first place was the four-hour long arthouse favourite A Brighter Summer Day (牯岭街少年杀人事件) from 1991. The film is directed by Edward Yang (杨德昌, pinyin: Yáng Déchāng) who, like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, was one of Taiwan's New Wave filmmakers who came to prominence in the 1980s. Although the story centres on a murder case , gangs and a teenage romance, A Brighter Summer Day also has political overtones, depicting the social unrest of the time (the sixties).

Yang had six films in the top 100, and a second film Yi Yi: A One and a Two (一一) in the top ten. Other filmmakers with multiple entries in the top 100 were the mainland's Zhang Yimou and Hong Kong's Wong Kar-Wai - both with five apiece. Like Yang, Wong Kar-Wai had two films in the top ten, including the highest-ranked Hong Kong film, Days of Being Wild (阿飞正传). Taiwan's Ang Lee had four films on the list - the international blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙) being his highest rated. Also with four films were Taiwan's Tsai Ming-liang and Hong Kong's Ann Hui.

The Golden Horse Top 100 is very much Taiwan-centric - seven of the top ten films are Taiwanese - just as the Hong Kong Film Awards list was heavily skewered towards Hong Kong films. However these lists are guaranteed never to please everyone. My personal top three Chinese films for example could only manage rankings of 18, equal 44 and equal 91.

The Top Ten is as follows:
1. A City of Sadness - Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 1989
2. A Brighter Summer Day - Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1991
3. A Time to Live, A Time to Die - Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan 1985
4. Days of Being Wild - Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong, 1990
5. Spring in a Small Town - Fei Mu, mainland China, 1948
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Ang Lee, Taiwan, HK, US, China, 2000
7. Yi Yi: A One and a Two - Edward Yang, Taiwan,
7. Dust in the Wind - Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan,
9. Dragon Gate Inn (龙门客栈) - King Hu, Taiwan, 1967
9. In the Mood for Love (花样年华) - Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong, 2000

The list in full can be found at this Film Business Asia article.

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