The Discussion of the movie “The City of Sadness.” Abstract

The Discussion of the movie “The City of Sadness.”


This is paper is on Hou Hsiao film “A City of Sadness,” amilestone of strong filmic languages in discussing identity politics.The film defines the histographical aspects how screening theforgotten history such as the 228 incident, evaluation of themodern history in relation to the daily occurrences, and objectivecomparison of private and public domains. The discussion of thedifferent incidence brings light to the understanding of modernityand the Taiwanese identity. The author involved different charactersto increase the knowledge of the history as well as typifying thereality of the historical discourse.

Thesis Statement

The Chinese filmmakers have a long history in inventing all kinds ofcinematic and narrative techniques. Therefore, it is essentialconsider a careful analysis of matters surrounding films includingthe language used for a number of reasons. First, the filmmakersapply unique symbolic language that incorporates cinematic codes suchas framing and camera shots. Second, the language used in the filmcontains express identities.

This paper seeks to create a comprehensive understanding on how theHou utilizes cinematic elements to develop a relationship betweenhistorical and modern politic identities. This film “A City ofSadness” will play a pivotal role in this analysis.

Literature Review

Different historical events are meant to create the comparisonbetween the older and modern ways of dealing with the problems,getting people’s reaction to the instances of denied justice, andfinding the rationale for different interpretations. However, thestyle of re-presenting a historical occurrence from which theincidents emerge is not only related to the chronological details butalso to the principles and the methodologies of the present. In hiswork, Hou focuses on the historical discourses unwrapping thehybridity of the chronicle realities and the conventional issuesarising from the incidences (Zhang, 217).

The 228 Incident was first brought to public media through HouHsiao’s film “A City of Sadness.” This move has given birth tomany disputes around imagination depicted in this movie. In reality,the 228 Incident indicates and witness the advancement of the TaiwanDemocracy, search for the national identity and a clear reflection ofthe complexities of the cultural hybridity. For instance, building ofa monument in Taipei, the discussion of the inscription and theunderstanding of the chronological issues are convenient examples ofthe extreme changes in the China politics since 1940s. Therefore, theevaluation of the “A City of Sadness” is instrumental inunderstanding the Taiwanese identity, her history and the modernpolitical and social approaches.

The Development of the Incident

Taiwan has undergone long history of pursuit by the Japanese colonialmasters toward 1895- 1920s. The Chinese government reclaimed heridentity at the end of World War II. In addition, the Nationalgovernment dilapidated the economy and the legislation of the countrywhile replacing the leadership in most of the country’s parastatalsthat were initially occupied by the colonialists. The pressure andhostility between the Kuomintang government and the Taiwanese reachedclimax, leading to a strong opposition on February 28, 1947.

To demonstrate the height of the commotion, Hou incorporates LinJiang Mai as one of the characters. She is a Taiwanese widow with twochildren under her care, who played a center part at an occurrence ofthe incident. She always traded legal cigarettes along contrabandtobacco to increase her income. Unfortunately, the Tobacco agentsalong Alcohol Monopoly agencies showed up with dozen policemen,confiscating her business and the little cash that she had earned.This incident sparked anger to the crowd of bystanders, pursuing theinvader angrily. In order to save their lives from a hot-temperedcrowd, the police fired carelessly into the crowd, leading to thedeath of Ch’en Wen-hsi and many vendors got injured. In thefollowing day, thousands of demonstrators marched their way to thepoint where the incident occurred calling for justice against theafflicted and also democratic reforms of the KMT government (Berry,199-200). Awkwardly, Chen Yi responded by instruction firedisbandment of the demonstrators, an incident that led to the deathof many people and a good number of injuries. However, thecontainment did not end there. Mr. Chen declared war against therebellion groups by modifying the martial laws in order to protecttroops from any humiliations of justice approach of the incidence.The debate on 228 Incident was prohibited for the next generationsuntil 1989 when it was first filmed. The discussion about thisincidence erupted, but neither government nor professionals were ableto guide into just conclusions. However, a monument was erected, anda memorial museum built to mark the incidence.

Analysis of the Incident

Hou realizes the concealed past by observing the contradictory issuesin the film that was famously labeled as 228 Incident. This film ismostly perceived as means of rekindling the political tension inChina Republic since it highlights several injustices. Hou recounts228 Incident as a platform of encouraging masses to accept whathappened in the former day just as the KMT took their fate from ownignorant. His main point here is that forgetting the past createsroom for building afresh that which has been taken from you.Actually, many people may tend to avoid facing the past since it maysurface the atrocity injustices and also challenge the nationalidentity. Forgetting the past is instrumental in forgiving for theoffense committed, and accepting new ideologies of nationaldevelopment and understanding between one another.

Hou represented the hard history with some moderation since theintensive means would likely create tensions and regrets with thepublic. However, Hou demonstrated the coherence of ideas by absorbingthe contribution of his collaborators in his narrative. Theconceptions of Japanese writers bring a satisfying explanation formarriage between culture and civilization. He applied the interestingshots depicting Shizuko splitting with Hiromi, turning the incidentinto a folklore of a Japanese girl guides her love by committingsuicide. This part is much affectionate about the Japanese culture.Moreover, Hou utilizes the long take aspect of his camera byportraying intellectual sharing discussion about the economicchallenges and employment problems in the country, thereby agreeingideas from his co-authors. Both agree that corruption, lawlessness,smuggling and social problems are sources of the frustrations facingthe country. These forms of images do not spare Hou from political,social and economic criticisms.

The film “A City of Sadness” develops distinctive embodiments tohistorical atrocities that remained unheard for long time. Thehistorical uncertainties are presented in a web of multiple eventsthat relate, touch or conflict one another. Therefore, it means thatthe past encroachment ceases from a deduction on monogenicprogressions of time but a complex area that intertwine theoccurrence of independent incidences. For instance, though Wen-chinga welfare in the Marxist theories, he is depicted as an accomplice inthe narrative since he has no political motives with Teacher Lin(Reynaud, 232-233).

Hou develops the narrative chronologically by deploying flashbacksthat help him in changing the scenes without creating directcorrelations of the events. The director of the film is forced toswing from the anecdotes to short stories along flashbacks in orderto make an unswerving and a meaningful plot. The panorama ofWen-ching narrating Hiromi the saga of his brother and that ofTeacher Lin is exhibited in flash where the fate of the characters isdeterminable. Moreover, Hou adds the value of his film by inductingthe political ideals in a form of written poem from one ofWen-ching’s cellmate whereby he open up to the sense of belongingin the country’s soil. This aspect has generated a purposefulsimulation to the modern social and political matters.

The Revival of History

228 Incident resorted to political differences, far from the pure artthat the filmmaker intended to create. The political atmosphere of1989 is usually fresh in people’s mind since this was the period oftransformation and commotion in China. Since the 228 Incident becameunhindered, Hou used his film to fuel the need for forgiving andforgetting the past while indirectly challenging the nation frominfecting the social rights of the public with the political issues.Nobody would shun the outcomes from the big puzzlement of the 228Incident. Interestingly, the discussions of 228 Incident turnedceremonial to the ruling government as it idealized sympathizing withthe victims in the verge of guiding the national identity on honesty,integrity, and peace.

Hou applies the aesthetic aspects through long shot cinematic clipsthat present the political violence not in the real sense but inmagnificence water, mountains and boats in order to misplace theactual crises from the face of the public. Although some of theeditors criticize this style, it is more of the conventional way ofcommunicating the bitter truth to the masses rather than exposing itin blue and white. These aspects indicate the skillfulness by Hou inutilizing symbolism. In addition, Hou avoids Dramatizing violenceespecially where the audience would expect the actual killings toappear in the cinema. His approach is in moderation since it couldsave him from the trouble of government suppression. It also preventsthe revival of the strong sentiments from revealing the forgottenatrocities in the mind of the public.

The term “sadness” conveys emotional incidences in the film, anarea that would capture the attention of every audience. However, Houapplies this aspect to construct the relationship between the pastand the present and create a sense in making the audience understandthe similarities between the past and present political conditions(Yau, 311). Actually, it is by emotions such as fear, sadness,anxiety and gladness that are suitable for linking the past with thepresent. In the films, various scenes portray more than just screenshots of killings and other atrocities. For instance, the events thatled to shutting down of the restaurant business as narrated to Hiromiby the Wen-ching family.

Hou utilizes irony in his film to liven into the audience theknowledge that the National government was deceptive and suppressiveto the civilians. The severity of the modern government was portrayedwhere the filmmaker exemplifies radio announcements as a lenientapproach by the government to hide the real incidences from thepublic. However, intertitles and the short scenes demonstrates areconstructively used to illustrate the tragic fact of the severity ofthe national government. The use of symbolism, irony, and rhetoricalmethods is essential to the screenwriter in attaining his objectives.


Generally, the film “A City of Sadness” is craftily developedwith portions of ambiguity to help the screenwriter achieve hisintentions. Hou tried to surface some situations while at the sametime trying to hide them. However, he is making every effort torevive people’s understanding of the chronicles of the nationalgovernment in both the past and present. As a result, Houpurposively depicts the 228 Incident in lines rather than adocumentary movie. “The inclusion of the two main characters,Wen-ching, and Hiromi, in an affectionate mood is used to minimizethe anxiety in the audience while conveying the message of the hardreality” (Lin, 2007, p. 233). These skills serve to represent Hou’sexpertise and knowledge in presenting contemporary issues. Houpresents the historical incidences in a metaphorical manner where hemanages to pour the emotions of the audience to the right channels.

The visual techniques such as photographing, painting and shootinghave a wider role in transferring information to the masses than theother means. Through 228 Incident, Hou demonstrates visual style as aunique way of narrating the past and present politics while makingthe audience recognize instances of injustices and violation of thehuman rights.

Work Cited

Berry, Chris, Xinyu Lü, and Lisa Rofel. The New ChineseDocumentary Film Movement: For the

Public Record. Hong Kong: Hong KongUniversity Press, 2010. Print.

Lin, Sylvia L. Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incidentand White Terror in Fiction

and Film. New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 2007. Print.

Reynaud, Bérénice. A City of Sadness. London: British FilmInst, 2002. Print.

Yau, Ching. Filming Margins: Tang Shu Shuen : a Forgotten HongKong Woman Director.

Abendeen: Hong Kong U.P, 2004. Print.

Zhang, Zhen. The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society atthe Turn of the Twenty-

First Century. Durham: DukeUniversity Press, 2007. Internet resource.