Harvard Film Archive's virtual cinematheque screened "Cities of Love and Sadness: Rediscovering Taiwanese-dialect Cinema of the 1960s," a series of four remastered classic Taiwanese-language films from the 60s with supplementary lectures and dialogue, from March 26 through April 5.
The title of the series draws its name from the 1989 Taiwan New Cinema masterwork "A City of Sadness (悲情城市)" by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) which was awarded the highest honor at the Venice Film Festival.
Prior to the advent of Taiwan New Cinema and Qiong Yao romance films in the 1970s, Taiwanese-language cinema had been a thriving industry for over two decades. During its prime years between 1955 and 1970, around 1,200 feature films were produced, yet of these only 200 remain. By this time, Taiwanese film culture’s institutional overhaul saw the Taiwanese language directly targeted by the Nationalist Government’s policies in favor of Mandarin films. Pushed to the fringes of existence, Taiwanese-language films struggled to survive, with little to no institutional support. Stigmatized for its "inferior quality" and "lowbrow taste," they nonetheless offered a glimpse into everyday lives in the midst of a globalizing nation.
At its apex during the mid-1960s, Taiwanese-dialect cinema reached a level of stylistic maturation, bound by the desire to portray the nation’s agonizing initiation into global capitalism. As a result, the films are inhabited by a host of familiar characters: the lascivious businessman, the opportunistic gigolo, perplexed youths, aging parents, and, most notably, exploited women.
Building on the momentum of Taiwanese-language cinema's recent revival, this series revolved around one particular genre—the urban melodrama—in exploring the interplay between women and the city. Each film presents a unique female perspective from one or a set of characters such as that of a young country girl, a teenager, orphaned sisters, and a single mother.
Divided into three programs, the first presented "The Husband's Secret (丈夫的秘密)" and "Night of Sorrow (五月十三傷心夜)" from March 26 to April 1, while the second program presented "Early Train From Taipei (台北發的早車)" and "Dangerous Youth (危險的青春)" from March 30 to April 5.
The third program included supplementary lectures and a dialogue by Director of the Taiwan Film Institute Dr. Wang Chun-chi (王君琦) and Assistant Professor of Chinese at the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations of the University of Colorado Boulder Dr. Evelyn Shih, available throughout the series.
Photo courtesy of Harvard Film Archive.