Directed for the Taiwanese Lin family. The

Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien in 1989, A City of Sadness won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. The film takes place in Taiwan from 1945 to 1949. After Japan returned Taiwan to China, Chinese officials refused to acknowledge the effect of Japanese rule and Taiwan’s long-term isolation with mainland China and its effect on the Taiwanese (e.g. dislocation). Taiwan’s history largely remained unacknowledged in the public sphere because Chinese officials purposely left out content on Taiwan’s history into history books. It wasn’t until 1989 when the release of A City of Sadness included the first on-screen presence of Taiwan’s struggles and slightly referenced historical incidents that affected the Taiwanese. Throughout the film, Hou suppresses the Japanese or mainland Chinese historical figures so that their histories become underrepresented. In this way, Hou positions the Taiwanese characters as major historical representation throughout its four-year transition from Japanese colonization to the return of Taiwan to the mainland. In A City of Sadness, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s sound synchronization and other cinematic techniques are used to present a dominant Taiwanese and underrepresented Chinese/Japanese historical representation that, in effect, create sympathy for the Taiwanese Lin family. The Opening SceneWhile the Japanese emperor’s voice is introduced over the radio, Hou uses sound synchronization to give sympathy and concern for the Lin family’s dominant on-screen presence, which juxtaposes with the less dominant Japanese. In the opening, when these film credits play as a series of black frames for a few seconds, the viewers can hear the Japanese emperor’s speech on the public radio. He spoke about the Japanese defeat as a result of, presumably, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The combined use of the black frames and the Emperor’s voice on radio juxtaposes with the dimly lit home of the Lin family. Throughout the opening scene, the Emperor’s speech is referenced as a minority, not majority; however, the Taiwanese history is presented as the majority. As a result, the Lin family are positioned as the major historical figures in the film. Hou’s reverse selection (of Taiwan’s historical presence dominating the film’s plot) is significant in that it forces the viewer to understand the inequalities that lie within historical representation; that some voices are heard, whereas some voices are purposely ignored by the majority. ¬†Followed by the Emperor’s speech from the radio set, Hou then aligns a baby’s birth to position worry and hope that parallels with Taiwanese people’s emotional turmoil during Taiwan’s departure from Japanese colonization to its return to mainland China. The camera follows Wen-heung, who is seen lighting the incense and shooting worried looks about his concubine giving birth. While off-screen cries of his concubine giving birth intensify, so do Wen-heung’s worry for her and the baby grows. Wen-heung’s concern and worried face, coupled with a wider shot of the baby’s birth, give the viewers an idea that the baby’s birth becomes an important issue, but one that is associated with unsettling and sympathetic feelings for the Lin family. This is because the mother’s screams forge a connection that Taiwan’s rebirth is not a glorious, happy new nation, but as a nation inflicted with constant worry, pain and deep suffering.Like the baby’s birth, Hou’s fixed shot of the lamp light signifies worry and hope that parallels with Taiwanese people’s emotional turmoil during Taiwan’s departure from Japanese colonization to its return to mainland China. Later, when the electricity from the lamp returns, Wen-heung says, “Now it’s coming.” It’s “coming” represents the emergence of a new baby into this world; in another sense, the birth also represents the nation’s renewal, since Japan will not govern Taiwan. Although the baby’s birth establishes the symbol as the nation’s renewal, the hope of envisioning the Taiwanese nation as a free nation becomes dismal, or rather dim, as suggested by the dim lighting from the lamp itself and the dim light throughout the rest of the Lin family household. After all, Taiwan would act less like a free nation, as the possibility of an emerging mainland Chinese authoritative power (e.g. the Guomindang) will likely suppress Taiwan and its people. To emphasize, the dim lighting in the Lin family household, including the dim lighting from the lamp itself, gives an unsettledness that little hope remained for Taiwan to establish itself as a truly independent nation. In other words, China would govern Taiwan, and the Taiwanese would potentially have no opportunity to govern itself. This would mean that Taiwan’s restructuring remained the same as before. Like the Japanese colonization of Taiwan, the Chinese would govern all aspects of Taiwanese life, including the possibilities of enforcing a common language, the lack of providing equal historical representation and implementing strategies to suppress the Taiwanese, which as a result, would weaken Taiwanese morale and disrupt Taiwanese family life. Hou’s use of presenting struggles as early as the beginning foreshadows that the Lin family will always lead a struggling life, as seen by the Lins’ worried reactions about the baby’s birth and their everyday worries about maintaining consistent electricity. Hou’s inclusion of the baby’s birth is important, since viewers are challenged to think not only about the implications of preserving Taiwanese history, but are also challenged to think how the new generation, or the baby’s life, is transformed by the unification between the Taiwanese and Chinese. Hou’s use of sound synchronization is most significant in the latter part of the opening, which challenges viewers to think about the history of the Taiwanese. In the background noise, the volume of the radio decreases, whereas the mother’s cries become louder. Her loudness further foreshadows the struggles and burden placed on the Lin family. The drowning out of the Japanese Emperor’s voice and the emphasis of the mother’s cries are significant. The sound differences broaden the viewer’s knowledge in that careful selection and audio distribution hides and never acknowledges certain viewpoints; in this case, Hou gives little representation of the Japanese, further emphasizing to his viewers that to understand film, one must see how film is one of many dangerous tools or mediums that forces others to see from the dominant perspective. In other words, viewers only have access to what the camera shows, which would show that while the limited, narrowed perspective of the filmmaker acknowledges one viewpoint, s/he refuses to acknowledge or gives little acknowledgment to the other viewpoint. Lorelei Scene: Sound Synchronization and Other Effects Hou synchronizes sound to render those who were more knowledgeable on the 2-28 Incident and the White Terror less visible, whereby rendering Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching (those who were less knowledgeable on the events) more visible; as a result, the knowledge gap becomes the source of the viewers’ sympathy towards the uninformed Taiwanese pair. In the opening of the Lorelai scene, the sounds made by Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching interacting with each other sync with the murmurs made by the primary, medium shot of the intellectuals at the table. Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching, who are not the primary focus of the medium shot, are positioned only a short distance away from the intellectuals, can be heard more loudly than the voices from the intellectual circle, whose voices are shot in a lower volume relative to the noises and ambient sound of Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching’s couple space. Although the intellectuals at the table are discussing important affairs, ¬†such as the “Renunciation” process, Hou only slightly acknowledges them; he did not adjust their talk at a higher volume. Hou’s digression of the intellectuals’ discussions is significant in that it ignores the (intellectuals’) demands of attempting to retrace a historical understanding, and instead, it reduces the need to recount historical events, noting that ordinary, uninformed people (such as in Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching’s muted interactions with one another) are often times unable to contribute to historical discourse and debate. In contrast, intellectuals and informed individuals are more likely to contribute to historical debates. To emphasize, Hou’s use of sound sync and focus on Kuan-Mei/Wen-ching attempts to illustrate the differences between the intellectuals and those who will remain uninformed on major events. Intellectuals, who are granted more opportunities and greater access to knowledgeable people throughout their lives, will continue sharing their ideas in their own little intellectual space, as represented by the table that the intellectuals share. Like Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching, those who are not granted access nor privilege to this intellectual hub will continue staying uninformed and finding themselves with fewer to no opportunities to contribute their own ideas about the world around them. As a result, Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching would know less about the events and the world around them, but will not know how to piece all these events together that would enable them to understand a fuller historical picture. This reinforces how they (e.g. women, deaf-mute, etc.) do not have a right, nor a voice, to speak for themselves on behalf of the struggles that they experience, while those who are not silenced and have more rights, can share the struggles. Again, Hou’s inclusion of the sound sync is used to shed sympathy on the uninformed, less knowledgeable people to show that their voices and views are not always represented; very rarely does one see, read or recognize why the uninformed stay uninformed. Also noteworthy is Hou’s choice to reduce and digress the intellectuals’ discussion and meal by an emerging soundtrack. Like the opening scene, where the Japanese emperor’s voice from over the radio set is minimized to increase the presence of the Lin family, the overtone in this scene acknowledges and ranks Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching’s identity as relatively more important. Equally important is Hou’s inclusion of Kuan-Mei and Wen-ching’s ignorance, which is paralleled with officials’ lack of acknowledgment to major historical events and its outright refusal to acknowledge people’s struggle/burden.

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