In the acclaimed director Chung Mong-Hong’s latest dramatic offering, “The Falls,” a high school student is forced to confront the wounds of a strained relationship with her mother when the two of them are forced to stay at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, on the other hand, takes the audience on a time machine in short film “The Night,” sending them back to one night during the fall of 2019, when Hong Kong was in the midst of the worst political turmoil it has ever seen.
“The Falls” and “The Night” are the two offerings from Taiwan featured at this year’s Venice Film Festival. While “The Falls” is a dramatic feature from a director who has won the hearts of some of the world’s toughest film critics with drama “A Sun,” which was shortlists for the international film Oscar, “The Night” is an artistic short that captures the streetscapes of Hong Kong during a special historical moment. The two titles may be vastly different from each other, but they share one thing in common: they are time capsules, serving as witnesses of some of the most chaotic moments the world has to endure.
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“Freedoms in Taiwan has provided a conducive creative environment, allowing filmmakers and creators to adopt a humanistic approach while taking on a unique perspective to examine social topics,” says Izero Lee, CEO of Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), an independent agency supervised by the ministry of culture specializing in promoting creative content from the self-governed island locally and internationally.
“Works created under such an environment are more diversified, offering much greater depth and insight into issues that address universal value,” Lee continues. “These stories reflect the concerns we share with the rest of the world, and getting featured in a top international film festival is an important recognition of creators’ efforts.”
The biggest issue that has been haunting the world is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has already infected more than 200 million people and taken more than 4.5 million lives. Although Taiwan was almost totally spared from the infectious virus for 18 months until it was finally hit by the virus in May this year, Chung has conceived a human story set against the backdrop of the pandemic for “The Falls,” and completed production just in time before the island was grinded to a halt by lockdown.
“2020 was an unforgettable year for all the people around the world,” Chung says in a statement. “The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to wear masks. As a result, many people changed their ways of life and even tragically lost their loved ones.”
“The social distancing measures also make people lose a sense of trust among each other. What this film dwells on is trust,” says the award-winning director.
The trust between a mother and her daughter is tested in Chung’s “The Falls,” based on the screenplay he co-wrote with Chang Yao-Sheng. Chung also serves as director of photography of this feature centering around a fraught mother-daughter relationship.
Starring Gingle Wang (“Detention”) as a high school student who is forced to stay home with her mother (Alyssa Chia, “The World Between Us”) after a classmate is tested positive for COVID-19, the mother and daughter are given the opportunity to rediscover each other as the daughter finds out that her mother is suffering from psychotic disorders. The mother, meanwhile, realizes that her daughter is the only one she can rely on.
“The Falls” is featured in the competitive Venice Horizons section, whereas “The Night” screens in an out-of-competition section, and is director Tsai’s return to the festival that brought him international recognition.
The auteur rose to the global stage when he won the coveted Golden Lion in 1994 with his sophomore film “Vive L’amour.” Famous for his long takes and artistic rendition of heart-wrenching moments of human lives, Tsai is no stranger to the world’s biggest film festivals and cinephiles over the years. He has been venturing into the art world in recent years, presenting his moving image work in museum settings while championing the concept of “Art Museum as Cinema.” He’s also introducing a new perspective on film-viewing as a counterbalance to the way of understanding the film language groomed by the commercial film industry.
“The Night” was conceived when Tsai was invited to share and perform the arts of Chinese oldies in Hong Kong in November 2019, when the former British colony was embroiled in the largest protests sparked by the proposed amendment of an extradition bill that would send people to stand trial in mainland China.
Months of protests that morphed into a citywide anti-government movement, which became violent at times from both riot police and protesters, and had turned the international financial center upside down. The city was divided. Protest-related signs, graffiti and the stinking smell of tear gas changed not just the streetscape of Hong Kong, but the city itself for good.
“It was a tumultuous time there,” Tsai says in a statement. “Growing up in Southeast Asia, I was nurtured by Hong Kong to say the least, and therefore, have always held Hong Kong dear to my heart.”
The Chinese title of “The Night” — Liang ye bu neng liu (The beautiful night is slipping away) — is inspired by an oldie from the 1940s, according to Tsai. “The beautiful night is slipping away. I hate to see you go. Why must our bliss end so soon? Why must we part when we’ve only just begun?” go the song’s lyrics.
The director then creates a visual record of the city’s rhythm and ambience of a historical turning point of the city’s fate. Some Hong Kong fans believe that this short film is the director’s love letter to the city.
“Witnessing the unexpected changes in the Pearl of the East, I could not help but feeling an emotional stir,” the award-winning auteur says. “One night, I began filming the streetscape of Causeway Bay after the frenzy subsided, and thus came this short film.”
How “The Falls” and “The Night” will fare at the festival is yet to seen but the two titles that deal with people’s wounds are hoped to bring Taiwan cinema back to the international limelight once again, notes TAICCA’s Lee.
“We hope that the world can get to know more about Taiwan’s film industry and film culture. From the availability of film talent and industry professionals and cultural diversity, to the beautiful scenery and friendly environment available for location shooting, Taiwan has a lot to offer and we hope that our content industries will have a bright future,” Lee says.
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