Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Li Hanxiang's 李翰祥 The Winter 《冬暖》 (1969)

Love in the Time of Industrialization:
Representations of Nature in Li Hanxiang’s The Winter (1969)

Perhaps the most exquisite, artistic, and well-crafted film of Taiwan’s so-called “Golden Age” of cinema (1964-9) is none other than Li Hanxiang’s (李翰祥) 1969 film The Winter《冬暖》. In their book Taiwan Film Directors, Emilie Yeh and Darrell William Davis briefly describe the film as a “sad, sweet story about a mainland émigré” in which Li “exhibits a stunning, fluid studio craftsmanship in his re-creation of a vernacular, parochial Taipei” (44-45). My paper -- an aesthetic analysis of Li’s landmark film -- presents primary sources from late 1960s Taiwan, focusing my study within the film’s historical-material context, and uses the lens of ecocriticism in order to reveal the ways in which Li’s fragmented images of urban Taipei generate a sense of anxiety and tension that is ultimately resolved by contrasting representations of nature. The images of nature also correlate in interesting ways with archetypal imagery of the Buddha as a peaceful, transcendent source of liberation. 

Li’s aesthetic sensibility is significant not only because his imagery provides apt metaphors for both the narrative conflict and resolution, but, in terms of Taiwan’s economic development, Li’s film seems to foreshadow the environmental destruction that would result from rampant industrialization in the following decades. And in terms of Taiwan’s film tradition, Li’s depiction of nature is unique when compared with his contemporaries; moreover, his aesthetic strategies foreshadow the imagery found in New Taiwan Cinema directors some 15 years later (including the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien), and fifth generation directors of China (including Chen Kaige) who similarly recognized that representations of the natural world could convey a sense of freedom impossible to realize during political repression.

Preliminary Bibliography:

Lim, Song Hwee, and Julian Ward. 2011. The Chinese cinema book. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lu, Sheldon H., and Jiayan Mi. 2009. Chinese Ecocinema in the Age of Environmental Challenge. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Rust, Stephen, Salma Monani, and Sean Cubitt. Ecocinema Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Yeh, Emilie Yueh-yu, and Darrell William Davis. 2005. Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island. New York: Columbia University Press.
Yip, June Chun. 2004. Envisioning Taiwan: fiction, cinema, and the nation in the cultural imaginary. Durham: Duke University Press.

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