Commentary on weeks1-3 course materials


Course: Taiwan Cinema
Comparison and comments about the readings and films 1.1000-word ,commentary must be written in your own words and based on your own findings,no paraphrase of a secondary source**********2.Please write a commentary in which you begin by stating a problematic (thesis) on Taiwan films, then go on to frame Taiwan film/theme(s) you plan to analyze or compare, to examine textual evidence in detail to support your argument, and to conclude with your creative insights.
3.Each entry (approximately 1000 words) should be precise and concise, in providing substantial arguments about how the films go after (appropriate and respond to) the empires – Japanese colonialism, Chinese cinema or Nationalist Party’s film policy, and Hollywood film industry or world market.( These are syllabus requirements and i think the Week1-Week3 mainly around Japanese colonialism i no sure about this)Reading materal: 1.Rigger 1-39
2. Chiu, “The Vision and Voice in New Taiwan Documentary”; 3. Leo Ching, Introduction to Anti-Japan
4. Ping-hui Liao, “Bride from Hell”Films name:
1. Viva Tonal: The Dance Age2. Le Moulin3 Dousan: A Borrowed Life

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Bride from Hell 地獄新娘 and Cosmopolitan Vernacularism
Ping-hui Liao, UCSD
Produced in the heyday of Taiwanese dialect films (taiyu pian), Bride from
Hell 地獄新娘(dir. Xin Qi 辛奇, 1965; Xin’s real name 辛金傳, 1924-2010) is
a revealing showcase of cosmopolitan vernacularism. The film script was
by Zhang Yuanfu(張淵福, 1912-2007), with screen music composed by
Yang Sanlang (楊三郎, 1919-89). The three major artists involved in the
film project were all born in Taipei and received Japanese colonial education
in their formative years; Xin and Yang even went on to study in Tokyo.
However, for plotting they decided to turn to a novel by Victoria Holt titled
Mistress of Meryll (1960; translated into Chinese as 米 蘭 夫 人 , 1961).
Throughout the film, we witness remarkable instances of appropriation in
which numerous techniques that are the footprints of Alfred Hitchcock and
James Bond movies help build spectral ambience, noir suspense,
psychological depth, and tempo control, among others.
Victoria Holt is one of the pen names adopted by Eleanor Hibbert (190693), a British popular fiction writer who interweaves gothic romance and
suspense. In Mistress of Merylle, Holt rewrites Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights,
and Rebecca in the manner of synthetic simulation, not only bringing the
governess to the castle to be caught in an intricate set of triangular
relationships, but developing the noir plot around a number of traumatic
and dramatic scenes underneath which mystery and murder intertwine
rearing their beguiling serpentine tails. The heroine is Martha Leigh, a prim
governess who has just been hired by the remote and demanding Connan
TreMellyn to care for his daughter Alvean. As the departure of the three prior
governesses suggests, Alvean is a difficult charge, though understandably so
since the recent death of her mother, Alice. As Martha tries to connect with
Alvean, she researches the history of Mellyn, and discovers hidden family
secrets that still haunt the present. Now familiar with Alvean, she feels
herself falling for Connan. As the affinity between Martha and Connan grows,
they find themselves enmeshed in entangled temporalities, not only with
Alice’s mysterious death from the recent past that continues to haunt them,
but also with both caught in network of aromatic pursuits and intrigues that
put any conceivable future at risk.
The novel was soon translated by Cui Wenyu (1936-89) into Chinese in
1961, first appearing in the literary supplement column of Dahua Evening
Post as serial and then as a book in 1964. The serial in translation gained
popularity and caused a sensation among local Taiwanese readers who
found the mysteries that shrouded the Cornish house of Mount Mellyn and
its residents to be intriguing. Because of its success, Chinese renditions of
almost all romance novels by Holt (Hibbert) ensued: thirty-one of Holt’s
thirty-two novels got translated. (Lai 324-25)
In his postscript to the
Chinese translation, Cui Wenyu advertised that the novel Mistress of Mellyn
was to be made into a film, with such cast as Audrey Hepburn and Allan
Durand. However, Hollywood didn’t give a go ahead signal about the film
project. This might be partially the reason why Xin Qi thought he could give
it a try in Taiwan. Certainly, the popularity of Qiong Yiao romance novels at
the time, as Lin Fangmei and Wang Liru suggest, also contributed to the
adaption, making Xin Qi an Akira Kurosawa in Taiwan cinema.
The very choice of the novel therefore shows Xin Qi to be a cosmopolitan
film director, even though he is often hailed as a master of the Taiwanese
vernacular tradition. However, Xin and his script writer Zhang do quite a
few changes in The Bride from Hell, to give Holt’s novel a translocal twist.
First of all, Xin makes his female protagonist Bai Ruimei (played by Jin Mei)
a younger sibling of Bai Ruiyun, wife of Wang Yiming (played by Ke Junxiong)
and mother to Shuyuan. Unlike Martha or her prototype Jane Eyre, who is in
search of a husband, Bai Ruimei takes up the job of a governess, so as to
investigate the mysterious disappearance of her elder sister. As made known
toward the end of the film, Ruimei turns out to be an “overseas” Chinese
returning from Singapore, a city state in South Asia and a former British
colony. The indirect reference to the United Kingdom may be a tribute to
Eleanor Hibbert (Holt), but it certainly adds exoticism, with an unexpected
(albeit discrepant) cosmopolitan and other worldly touch.
On top of such a drastic change, the film also makes use of traditional
Chinese female ghost stories to evoke the hauntological atmosphere around
the unsolved murder and to call for retribution. As Ruimei is Ruiyun’s
younger sister, she has dream vision of meeting her deceased sister and
learns thereby some clues from her about the murder. And it is through the
eye of the little girl Ah Lan (played by Dai Peishan, the producer’s daughter)
that the mystery unfolds and eventually our female protagonist is saved.
This brings the film closer to those by Alfred Hitchcock. To add to its
resonances in local constituency and collective memory, a number of the
location shots take place in the renovated mansion of the Lin family of
Wufeng, which has a long history interacting with the Qing empire, Japanese
colonial regime, and foreign powers in Taiwan. Against the background of
colorful and hybrid buildings of the most powerful family in central Taiwan,
the film evokes not only ancient glories and recent trifles, but also ghost
stories and haunted houses over disputed inheritance and marriages.
In yet another translocal turn, the crime scene is set in a Buddhist shrine
with the trap technologically much more advanced than what is in the
original story. When the male protagonist Wang Yiming leads the search to
rescue the governess, James Bond’s 007 theme music is used to reinforce the
motif of danger and reward. Finally, there are other minor modifications to
go with global and local popular trends.
In Holt’s novel, the female
protagonist is rather fond of horse riding, and that’s why she gets to discover
a schedule notebook in a pocket of the coat belonging to her boss’ former
wife. However, in Bride from Hell the favorite sport turns out to be golf, an
emergent fashionable game among the Taiwanese upper middle class of the
time. Music and dance also suggest cultural hybridity as they range from
American-Japanese folksong or choral to American Jazz, Jitterbug, and Latin
Tango, among others. All these contribute to the transcultural dynamics, not
to mention diversity and versality, of the film.
As the film opens, police are investigating a mysterious drowning of a man
and a woman whose boat capsizes. The man is identified as the eldest
brother of the Gao family; however, the body of his mistress, Bai Ruiyun, who
is supposed to have eloped with Gao in defiance of her husband Wang Yimin,
is not recovered. Immediately, we have a noir riddle, but the news coverage
of the tragedy puts Wang, Bai’s husband, in a very bad mood. He is upset
that his wife should leave him for another man. Even though her body is not
found, Wang presumes her to be dead and turns his sole affection to another
married woman, Mrs. Lien, to the neglect of his daughter Shuyuan who is
barely of age. Wang hires a new governess to take care of his daughter after
the last three have failed to win her over. As a result, Bai Ruimei takes up
the position of a governess. In Holt’s novel, the female protagonist is said to
be poor and plain-looking, very much like Jane Eyre. But in Xin Qi’s film, Bai
is portrayed to be intelligent, charming, and lively. On the train, Bai meets a
stranger who insists to read her palm and tell her fate. He assures her that
she will find her new job very tough and even catastrophic. The stranger
turns out to be the second brother of the Gao family; he fancies Bai and later
on even proposes to her but gets rejected. Through him and Wang’s
daughter, Bai the governess cultivates friendship with Gao’s younger sister,
Fengjiao (played by Liu Qing, a famous actress notable for her style of
frivolity but also of complexity.)
When Governess Bai arrives at the mansion, her boss is with Mrs. Lien,
while her pupil is not to be seen—she is away from home with the Gao family.
At once, Bai realizes that the stranger’s prophecy of her estranged
predicaments in the new demanding environment reveals partial truth.
However, she eventually manages to persuade her boss that her daughter is
in dire need of his love and attention; thus, she not only wins Shuyuan over
but also gets to be a tutor to another little girl Ah Lan, who would disclose
crucial information and secrecies to the governess. While local knowledge
begins to take root, with friendship and intimacy slowly cultivated,
Governess Bai faces a major challenge to find more clues against the gothic
and spectral background. She is told not to get near the former mistress’s
bedroom from the very beginning, but her desire to dig deeper only pushes
her to transgress and to put herself right at the middle of framed murder
scene. Bai decides to closely examine all the traces left in the room to solve
the riddle. The main task is to discover who is behind the door and curtain
to turn on lights in the room as if it is haunted. Her first attempt at the door
is met with a most scary confrontation with another eye looking at her
through the keyhole; she faints and is revived by a maid who happens to be
nearby. The horrific and Hitchcockian experience serves to intensify her
curiosity and determination to look further for more clues. Several incidents
ensue, but they simply indicate that somebody with evil intent must be
pulling the triggers. Governess Bai is not a person to give up easily. She goes
back and investigates every time she sees something suspicious—sudden
lights turned on at the master bedroom or a ghostly presence appearing
behind the shade, for instance.
A number of people mislead Governess Bai, but it is always her fond pupil
Ah Lan who reassures her that the “Former Mistress didn’t die in the boat
incident”: “She is still alive.” Almost completely abandoned and illiterate, the
little girl Ah Lan is an interesting transfiguration of young Heathcliff who is
adopted at early age but grows up to be a wild man in Wuthering Heights,
fired by impetuous impulses in disrupting social order and establishment.
Ah Lan has a natural talent to sing and to reveal mystery. Normally quiet,
but when she sings or speaks, her voice conveys important messages. It
turns out that the eye in the keyhole returning the gaze at Governess Bai is
Ah Lan’s, but the little girl’s persistent faith in her former mistress’ wellbeing
is eventually shattered when she witnesses an entrapment and attempted
murder orchestrated by Gao Fengjiao.
In the film, Gao Fengjiao leads a double life. On the surface, she plays a
nice cousin to Wang Yiming and befriends practically everyone, especially
Governess Bai. Deep down, she is tormented by jealousy and frustration that
Wang always falls for the wrong women instead of proposing to her. To win
back her man, she resorts to extremely intriguing designs to get rid of
whomever that is in her way, including her own eldest brother, former
governess, and of course, Bai Ruiyun, Wang’s wife. She poisons and kills Mr.
Lien, to incriminate Mrs. Lien, who is openly flirting with Wang Yiming. She
is behind the fallen rocks incident that almost kills the governess and her
pupil. When she finds out that Wang intends to marry Bai Ruimei, she brings
the new governess to the family shrine and snares her in the basement to
suffocate. Fortunately, Ah Lan grows suspicious and follows them to witness
the crime scene. Ah Lan leads Wang–our James Bond–and the others to the
site to rescue Governess Bai in time. In the original novel, the scene is kept
elliptical, to heighten the pleasure of rescue when the female protagonist
sees light. But in Bride from Hell, the gaze, surveillance, and rescue scenes
are very deliberate, lasting up to 10 minutes. After saving Bai’s life, Wang
discovers the corpse of his late wife and her final words in blood on the wall
of the basement implicating Gao Fengjiao to be the evil doer and her
murderer. At the resurrection of Governess Bai, Wang decides to play a trick
on Gao Fengjiao in the wedding. He tells Gao that she is his intended, but
then, the true bride appears to declare herself as the “bride from hell.”
The ways in which Xin Qi and Zhang Yuanfu reinvent the film title as “Bride
from Hell” suggest that they are drawing on Chinese vernacular narratives,
especially Buddhist and Taoist ghost stories. Holt’s novel highlights the dark
secrets and intrigues, but Xin’s film goes one step further in calling up the
theme of revenge and retribution. Among Chinese folk heroes, who battle
evil forces, Judge Bao is considered to be the lord of Hades (or hell) in
gathering information from the dead and bringing forth new verdicts. His
visits to the underworld constitute famous gongang stories in solving
murders and mysteries. In the film that concerns us here, the implicit
reference to the returnee from hell is to the vernacular tradition and to
reinforce the demand of retribution.
In fact, our female and male
protagonists discover truth only in the basement, that is, after deciphering
the dead’s handwriting. The pronouncement of Governess Bai as “bride
from hell” immediately does the work in naming Gao as the murderer and
indicates justice being served. By then, we know Governess Bai is ready for
a new life (or afterlife) to unfold.
Alongside with Ah Lan, we audience become participant-observers in the
crime investigation, but the discovery process is mostly through the lens of
Governess Bai who pieces together small items of information and evidence
to disclose mysteries. By winning Ah Lan’s trust, Bai gets to know more
detail of her elder sister’s last days. The schedule note that is in her late
sister’s golf coat provides a substantial clue that Bai Ruiyun is busy planning
to attend a party the day before she suddenly disappears. Governess Bai also
finds a pretty pin in the jewelry shop that her elder sister orders to be
redecorated. She ponders: “If Ruiyun is planning to run away and to take her
own life the very next day, why should she place such an order?” Something
unexpected or suspicious must have happened, to be sure. But what sort of
disruption? Why is Bai Ruiyun not to be seen again? Who is responsible for
the drowning, poisoning, and other incidents? As Governess Bai can only
gather partial information, she struggles to retrieve data in reconstructing
the past. She ends up a flawed detective, especially as she becomes more
intimate with Wang Yiming and agrees to be a mother figure to Wang’s
daughter Shuyuan. The conflation of distance and proximity in relation to
the object of her investigation, that is, her sister’s disappearance,
complicates further the situation. For she has by this time replaced her elder
sister and turned herself into another potential target in the murder plot. As
the distance vanishes, Governess Bai discovers the truth by re-experiencing
what her elder sister has been through. But this time the repetition does not
bring death. The bride returns from hell, revived and equipped with new
insight and renewed opportunities.
Our male protagonist experiences
ethical reawakening in the process and hence commits himself to be a better
father and husband.
Throughout the film, Governess Bai is often mistaken to be her elder
sister. They look almost alike but not quite, and because of such almost
identical genomic features Governess Bai gets to dress like her sister and to
assume the role of a tutor, mother, lover, and wife. This “almost alike but not
quite” aspect can be said to be a most innovative translation strategy, as
suggested by Walter Benjamin, Lawrence Venuti, Henri Meschonnic, and
many other scholars on the ethics and politics of translation. It may enable
us to better appreciate the ways in which director Qin and his film
production team translate or appropriate Holt, who is indebted to works by
the Bronte sisters and tries to make them her own, in giving a new life (or,
in the words of W. Benjamin, “afterlife”) to Mistress of Meryll as the novel is
adapted into a Taiwanese film.
As Venuti advocates, “the translator negotiates the linguistic and cultural
differences of the source text by reducing them and supplying another set of
differences drawn from the receiving situation to enable the translation to
circulate there.” (11) For the film in question here, the differences the
adaptation makes are more sensible and nuanced. It seeks not to find the
equivalents or to reproduce, but to give the source text a translocal and
productive twist that goes along with global trends across genres and media,
not just acquiring “significance and value in relation to literary trends and
traditions in the translating culture.” (Venuti 103) This is what makes the
film a representative case of cosmopolitan vernacularism.
Director Xin Qi is most notable for making films in local Taiwanese
(Fujianese) dialect. Xin’s film making career spans almost sixty years, and
one hundred movies in taiyu pian are accredited to him, among them history
drama, romance comedy, noir, neo-realism, and so forth. Xin is ranked as
one of the ten most popular Taiwanese film directors in the 1970s, and in
2000, he is the winner of the prestigious lifetime achievement and best film
director awards. His characters range from folk heroes to subaltern minor
subject from the dark street corners. From his early years, Xin had shown a
remarkable skillfulness in rewriting Chinese and Japanese plays into film
scripts. In 1954, with his adaptation of several Japanese plays around a poor
woman titled “Flower in a Rainy night” (Yuye hua 雨夜花), Xin launched his
film career and began to build his repertoire around stories of the Taiwan
people. (Huang 38) From his early films, we witness a persistent film theme:
female protagonists and their existential predicaments are always given
crucial significant roles in re-narrating the past. In Xie Pinggui and Wang
Baochuan (1956), for instance, the focus of attention is on Baochuan, the
Chinese Penelope who awaits her husband for eighteen years patiently as he
joins the army to defeat a Korean warlord.
Xin would often turn to traditional Taiwanese opera, early Chinese cinema,
or literary works by his contemporary for inspiration. 1965 saw Xin at his
most prolific: he directed at least six films that year. Unlike the other five
that came out within months, Bride from Hell is based on a novel by Victoria
Holt, a British writer. However, in terms of style and theme, Bride can be
viewed as a synthetic version of Please Forgive Me, Tragic-Romantic Highway,
The Unforgettable Station, Broken Quilt, and Female Fugitive. For all these
films touch upon suspicious death and framed murder, memory and
reconciliation, crime investigation and ultimate justice, reunion and
marriage. Nevertheless, Bride from Hell is far more complex in its plotting,
casting, shooting, particularly in film techniques that help bring forth its
vernacular cosmopolitanism.
Even though Bride from Hell is largely based on Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn,
the adaptation is very much a re-articulation, a translocal rendering of a
source text into something “almost alike, but not quite.” By making the new
governess a sister in disguise, the film actually adds an extra dimension of
the double, of a returnee from hell who manages to avoid repeating the same
fate. The sisterhood also renders ghost haunting scenes to be more plausible
to the Sinophone audiences, for they are familiar with traditional stories
around female specters who return to fulfill family responsibilities or
incomplete tasks, especially when the dead sister alerts Ruimei about
murder and then asks her to take care of the daughter.
However, we may well say that music and dance in the film contribute to
its cosmopolitan vernacularism.
In the novel, Martha Leigh, the new
governess, hears a “strange voice” singing, “slightly off key.” (Holt 31) It is
“one of the those which were being sung in drawing rooms all over the
country.” As the lyric goes, it is about Alice: “Alice, where art thou? / One
year back this even / And thou wert by my side, / Vowing to love me, / Alice,
what e’er may betide.” (32) It seems to be on Alice, the mistress who has
disappeared for one year, and the song is by the little girl Gilly. But in the
film, the song is more cosmopolitan, deriving from an American folk song
which gets appropriated into Japanese music repertoire and re-interpreted
first by Shutong Li (the Reverend monk Hong Yi 弘一) and then by the
Taiwanese composer Yang Sanlang. The lyric is beautiful but ambiguous,
and it seems to come from nowhere in a rather eerie manner, against the dim,
desolate, and shadowy background. This is not the only piece of music with
transnational origins. Throughout the film, American Jazz and new western
music crosscut the local folk melodies, in celebration of cultural dynamics
and diversity. In the dance party, for example, tango and jitterbug, along
with other popular trends of the time, are in fashion. And when the rescue
team go on search for governess Bai, it is the music motif associated with
James Bond that functions to build tension and transition from a Hitchcock
suspense or crime mystery to action movie.
In Holt’s novel, the “diabolical” Celestine Nansellock (Gao Fengjiao in the
film) tries to entrap Martha the governess by leading us to discover the
“priest’s hole” in the Mount Mellyn. She tells Martha on the eve of her
wedding that the discovery could be a “surprise” gift to Connan TreMellyn:
“I’ve always have a theory that somewhere in this house there is a priest’s
hole . . . you know, the hidy hole of the resident priest into which he scuttled
when the queen’s men arrived.” (Holt 245) “Connan would be delighted if
we found it. . . . it would be the best wedding present I could give him,” she
leads on. Celestine even resorts to religion in setting up the trap: “”I know
that one TreMellyn did toy with the idea of becoming a Catholic.” Martha
ends by entering the “hole” and the door shut behind her. She becomes panic
and then finds her not alone: Alice has been there “silent for more than a
year.” (246) In her hallucination, Martha begins to think of herself as Alice’s
double: “During that time I spent in the dark and gruesome place I was not
sure who I was. Was I Martha? Was I Alice?” (247) “Our stories were so much
alike. I believed the pattern was similar,” she speculates. Then, “There was
a blinding light in my eyes. I was being carried.” (248) Martha is safe, and it
is Connan’s arms that hold her. In the novel, the traumatic scene concludes
here most abruptly.
Xin Qi and his production team come up with a more elaborate retelling
of the scene, drawing on local spiritual tradition and global film trends to the
effect of being “almost alike, but not quite.” First of all, instead of the “priest’s
hole,” in the film Gao brings the unsuspicious Governess Bai to Wang family’s
Buddhist shrine. While she is leading the governess on, a shadowy figure
closely watches. Xin Qi appropriates Hitchcock’s technique and closes up on
the little girl’s eye, against the prolonged terrifying, hair-raising sheer sound
in the background. (Slide here). This is an instance of innovative disruption
and cosmopolitan vernacularism at their best. Xin Qi reveals the trap down
the stairs to be operating on a technologically advanced mechanical device,
another showcase of the sophistication and cosmopolitanism. But the
emerging crime scene grows tight on screws and quickly turns desperate but
finally comic-tragic within the next ten minutes in the movie. Ah Lan tries to
move the knot to rescue her teacher, but to no avail. She runs to her master
Wang Yiming to inform him about what has happened. Wang cannot grasp
the urgency except that his loved one has disappeared. Immediately he
organizes a rescue team. As they use flashlights to search for Governess Bai,
the familiar James Bond leitmotif is deployed not only to highlight heroism
in face of danger, but also to introduce tongue in the cheeks, comic relief
effect. Ah Lan eventually makes herself understood and brings the rescue
team to the shrine, just in time for Wang to save Bai and to identify the culprit.
The camera work keeps us constantly in check, synchronizing with the pace,
rhythm, music, and projected sensorium of hope and fear. Through closeups
and then tunnel vision, the audience get to peek into the darkness and to
piece together gradually the brutal truth about another framed murder. Xin
Qi uses wide angle and panning shots to go with the search, to emphasize the
desperate and clueless energetic anxieties. In many aspects, Xin Qi proves
to be as good as Bergman, Hitchcock, and Kurosawa, in the use of black and
white, shades and shadows, sound and sense, and indeed camera in motion.
Xin Qi is a master of the Taiwanese cinema (taiyu pian). He is also very
attentive to age, class and gender, among other social issues. In 1966, one
year after Bride from Hell, he made a film about lives behind the street
corners, to raise consciousness of poverty and inequality. At the beginning
of Bride from Hell, the old granny and staff chief Liu tries to tease one of her
junior colleagues by poking fun at the way her family name sounds like: in
Taiwanese (and also in Fujianese) Liu is pronounced as lao (seniority). It is
just one among many instances in the film that vernacular expressions can
be full of puns and fun. In fact, as Emiie Yeh and Darrell Davis point out,
Taiwanese cinema dominated in the 1960s and 1970s as a most popular and
cosmopolitan medium across the Chinese-speaking communities. (19)
Movie goers in Xiamen, Penang, Malaca, Jacada, and Singapore would have
no problem understanding the language and appreciating such a cast as in
Bride from Hell. Actors like Ke, Jin, and Liu are in their prime at the time;
they have huge fans in the global Sinophone world. All these contribute to
the making of the film as cosmopolitan vernacular.
Works Cited
Benjamin, Walter. (1923; 2012) “The Translator’s Task.” The Translation
Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London: Routledge. 75-83.
Holt, Victoria. (1960; 1961) Mistress of Mellyn. London: Collins.
— (1961; 1964) Milan Furen (Mistress of Mellyn). Trans. Cui Wenyu. Taipei:
Crown Publishing Co.
Huang, Ren. (2008) Xin Qi de chuan qi (Xin Qi: The Legend). Taipei: Asia
Pacific Publishing Co.
Lai, ciyun. (2017) Fanyi chentan shiwusuo (A Checklist of Books Translated
in Martial-Law Taiwan: 1945-1989). Taipei: Azure Publishing Co.
Lin, Fangmei, and Wang Liru. (2017) “From English Romance to Taiwan
Film” (in Chinese.) Baibian qianfan bu shiyi (Taiwanese-Language Cinema).
Taipei: Lienjing Publishing Co.
Meschonnic, Henri. (2011) Ethics and Politics of Translating. Ed. Pier-Pascale
Boulanger. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Venuti, Lawrence.
(2013) Translation Changes Everything. New York:
Yeh, Emilie Yueh-Yu, and Darrell William Davis. (2005) Taiwan Film
Directors. New York: Columbia University Press.
The vision and voice of new
Taiwan documentary
Filmmaking in 1980s Taiwan
The 1980s is a significant decade in Taiwan’s film history as it witnessed the rise
of new Taiwan cinema and the debut of many of the film directors who now enjoy
a prestigious status in the international film circles. Hou Hsiao-hsien (Hou
Xiaoxian), Edward Yang (Yang Dechang), and Tsai Ming-liang (Cai Mingliang)
are prominent examples. The cultural critic Zhan Hong-zhi (1988a: 85) noted that
new Taiwan cinema was characterized by a realist penchant, in sharp contrast to
the popular martial-law movies at that time. New Taiwan cinema directors prefer
non-professional actors to well-established movie stars. In addition, to render a
realistic representation of contemporary Taiwanese society, their films often
have the dubbing of the dialogue in Taiwanese (Taiyu)—the language used by
the majority of the people but suppressed under the Mandarin (gi/oyw)-only pol­
icy in the post-war period (H. Zhan 1988b). Zhan’s view is shared by overseas
critics. Douglas Kellner (1998: n.p.) believes that new Taiwan cinema directors
have “produced a new type of political cinema distinctly focused on Taiwanese
problems and identity.” As Emilie Yeh and Darrell William Davis (2013: 152)
remark, new Taiwan cinema “represents major changes in style, theme, and audi­
ences.” For some critics (X. Jiao 1988: 397; Yip 2004: 64), new Taiwan cinema
can be regarded as “a cinema of or for the masses.”
Nevertheless, the definition of new Taiwan cinema as “a cinema of or for the
masses” is not without problem. Some critics point out that new Taiwan cinema
was “elitist” from the very start and tended to eschew controversial contemporary
social issues (H. Zhan 1988c: 95; Y. Xiao 1988: 99; Yeh and Davis 2013: 154).
They argue that new Taiwan cinema directors were in fact concerned more with
film aesthetics than engineering social changes through their films (H. Zhan
1988b: 27). In these critics’ view, it is curious that the element of “social commit­
ment” should be missing in a cinema movement that was hailed as bridging film
production with contemporary Taiwanese society (T. Li and Chen 1996: 56).
They argue that the box-office failure of new Taiwan cinema tellingly reflected
the rupture between its directors’ bourgeois aesthetic outlook and Taiwanese
society in general. For Liu Xiancheng (1996: 92), the rise of new Taiwan cinema
was concomitant with the rise of the bourgeois class in post-war Taiwan, which
History and politics
tried to affirm its identity through a new (film) language distinguishable from the
state-sanctioned official (film) language.
Roughly about the time when new Taiwan cinema directors were inventing a
film language that would reflect the social, political, and aesthetic outlook of the
bourgeois class in Taiwan, a group of documentarians was trying to produce eye­
witness accounts of street demonstrations to counter state-sanctioned reports.
Just like the 1960s in many Western countries, the 1980s was a decade of vibrant
counter-culture in Taiwan. There were as many as fourteen social movements
going on at the same time, each with a clear and specific agenda (H. Hsiao 1989:
26). The film scholar Lee Daw-ming recalls that street demonstrations took place
almost every day, and each demonstration rallied tens of thousands of protesters
(Y. Mao 2007). Working closely with social protesters, documentarians brought
into being a new form of grassroots documentary filmmaking
that intervened in
heated public debates (R. Chi 2003).
With a strong emphasis on “eyewitness” and “grassroots” vision, the new
mode of documentary filmmaking
was first practiced by “the Green Group”
(liise xiaozu) of documentarians. To boost the credibility of their eyewitness
accounts, the Green Group took full advantage of the indexical value of docu­
mentaries by using unsteady camera movement to underscore the “authenticity”
and “reliability” of their film representation (D. Lee 2002: 211). Playing an indis­
pensable role in social movements of all kinds, including the aboriginal move­
ment, the women’s movement, an

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