Last year, the Cannes Film Fest directing award went to Taiwanese master Hsiao-Hsien Hou for this unsatisfying art-house Martial Arts contemplation; visually rich/dramatically inert. At heart a revenge story about a stolen bride, raised (by nuns!) to kill the man she never wed, along with much of his royal house, currently in the middle of a breakaway war against their own provincial overlords. The pacing is glacial (which isn’t a problem); the story informationally undernourished (which is). And while some sequences are hypnotically lovely, paradoxically earthy & otherworldly, too much goes by in a fog of unexplained characters & inexplicable war stratagems. Who could this one have been made for? And why do so many international film fests play in intellectual/commercial vacuums, as if purposefully cultivating the worst of both camps?
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Don’t let this wrong turn keep you off Hsiao-Hsien Hou. Try his early DUST IN THE WIND/’86, a small town/big town story as simple, true & moving as a Dear John letter.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: IMDb lists the film as shot & formatted in the old squarish Academy Ratio (1.37:1). Not quite. The fine Well-Go DVD is mastered for anamorphic playback and shows in something that looks closer to 1.66:1.
DOUBLE-BILL: Hungarian Béla Tarr had a similar misadventure when he brought his art-house sensibility to genre material in THE MAN FROM LONDON/’07.