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NOVEMBER 27, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 21


A scene from Pure Accidents, the Taiwanese movie directed by Hung Chih-yu.

Lights, Camera, More Action
Hung Chih-yu and fellow young directors are bringing a new liveliness to Taiwan's dark cinema
By MACABE KELIHER

There is a new trend in Taiwan cinema. Call it what you will: third new wave, post-new wave, ultra-new wave or just commercialism finally coming home to roost. Young director Hung Chih-yu prefers to describe it this way: "We've had enough of historical exposés and personal grief. We don't want to go to the movies and feel like we are in class. We want to laugh or cry, be touched and moved." In his first feature film, Pure Accidents, which debuted at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in September, Hung has succeeded in breaking away from the dark realism of traditional Taiwan cinema. He does so with a familiar story, of a banal marriage in which husband De-yuan (Chu Chong-heng) and wife Li-wen (Hsiang Li-wen) have grown apart. The plot has the usual twists: he seeks an affair; she gets kidnapped by teen gang members on the run from their boss; he is remorseful; she befriends her abductors; she goes home; everyone lives happily every after.

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Well, almost. Hung injects a few surprises into the tale, as much in the storytelling technique as in the narrative. He infuses the film with color, humor and cutting camera angles that pull viewers in and play with their imaginations. "I wanted to use an amplified way of talking about simple things," the director says. Hen-yi (Lin Hen-yi), the other woman, swallows De-yuan's wedding ring when he decides to go back to his wife; Li-wen chooses initially to stay with her kidnappers and wins them over with her cooking; the teens, a couple, decide to get married. The exaggerations are larger than life and almost plunge into surrealism. "I want to know," says De-yuan in a key moment, "what it's like to fall in love again."

Hung says he is trying to strike a balance between the artistic and the commercial. "I want to bring people back to the movies to watch local films," he says. Box-office revenue for Taiwanese productions has dropped steadily from a peak in the late 1980s of about $400,000 a film to around $10,000 today. The problem: even as Western movies make greater inroads, local directors continue to craft melancholy films about Taiwan's unique historical predicaments. Consider the works of film legend Hou Hsiao-hsien. Audiences these days seem more put off by the director's painful long shots and lack of a story line than they are captured by his camera techniques and style, which have won him 10 international awards.

Although Hung studied under Hou for eight years before shooting Pure Accidents, his work seems to bear little resemblance to his teacher's. "My biggest influence is no doubt Hou Hsiao-hsien, but I have developed my own style," says Hung. Fellow directors Chen Yu-hsun and Chang Tso-chi are beginning to make similar breaks with the past. This may well be the long-awaited start of a new era in Taiwan film.

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