Some musings on… Time and Asian cinema

September 18, 2016

Andrey Tarkovsky once said “Cinema is sculpting in time”, reminding us that time, by giving motion to images, is the dimension differentiating cinema from other visual arts. Films can manipulate time, speed it up, slow it down, go backwards and forwards, join together shots recorded days if not years apart, make time feel faster or heavier through tempo, editing, shot duration. This plasticity of the film medium means it can cheat the tyrannical irreversibility of time, even cheat death by reviving actors long deceased onto our screens. A film makes us live through its time, watching the process of the ephemeral present becoming the past, before our very eyes. Cinema in some way has tamed time (“In cinema, memory is the slave” – Godard). In a sense, what the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists did to how we see and perceive light and colour through painting, the medium of film has done to how we experience time.

The philosopher Gilles Deleuze defined the difference between classical and modern cinema as the evolution of cinema’s power to articulate time. Time in classical cinema was time of action: an event occurring and then another in a cause-and-effect chain. But, says Deleuze, in modern cinema time stands before us in its purest state, in the way we think, feel, experience it: modern films manage to convey the mental formation of time. When fishing for examples, it soon becomes tempting to say that some of the most invigorating uses of cinematic time in modern cinema have come from Asia. We can think back to Ozu and his ‘pillow shots’ – nothing other than time in its purest form, breaths of air in between scenes. But fast-forward to the last 20-30 years and Asian cinema has continued to have a fascinating relationship with time, perhaps because of their societies’ own breakneck modernisation process, in direct conflict with long-standing traditions of serenity and tranquillity.

Wong Kar-wai’s ‘Metropolitan time’









Wong Kar-wai’s films are imbued with longing and romantic nostalgia for the past. Characters recur across his filmography as if through internal wormholes of memory (of the kind depicted almost literally in 2046). Most of these characters are lovelorn, city-dwelling romantics, who internalise their urban loneliness and fail to ever quite get together. Nowhere is this mood, and by connection the peculiar sense of time that goes with it, more tangible than in Chungking Express. Across this diptych of jilted cops we find time-shifts, countdowns, and mental jet-lags.

The first cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro) obsessively counts the days, backwards, to the day his ex left him (May 1st, which he also commemorates by gorging on all the pineapple cans he can find with this expiration date) and forwards to his birthday, as if this is his way of making every minute count as time ticks on. The second cop (Tony Leung) has been left by his air-hostess girlfriend, and misses his connection with the girl who serves him coffee every day at his regular snack bar (Faye Wong). The latter, unbeknownst to him, is so infatuated that she sneaks into his apartment with a spare key and moves his furniture around. But Leung is an oblivious dreamer, lost in his own time-zone within the sprawling metropolis that is Hong Kong.

One scene perfectly encapsulates this. Leung, pensively meditating against a jukebox, is lost in his own mental world as he enters coins into the machine, while behind him crowds of anonymous fellow-Hong-Kongers rush by in a blur. This is the modern metropolis, a grid of perpetual movement, but within it millions of nodes: millions of individuals with their own consciousness, their own senses of time, their own need to sometimes slow down even as the world whizzes past. In this image, we see and feel this relativity of time, as two distinct time-zones combine in the same shot, Leung’s individual time in his bubble and the collective time of the anonymous crowd.

Wong, assisted by his trusty cameraman Chris Doyle, has created a distilled experience of relative temporality, of time lurching or speeding, depending on mood. Chungking Express is full of these manipulations of time via the manipulation of film-speed, slowing down or accelerating the action, or in this scene creating the effect of both at the same time. In fact, it was achieved by having Leung perform his gestures extra-slowly, then later speeding up this footage, so he appears to move at normal pace while those behind him are a sped-up blur. The whole of Chungking Express is about the attempts of these individual nodes of time to connect within this massive metropolitan network. But independent time-zones still always remain out of sync.


Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s ‘Historical time’

Another way in which cinema plays with time is by delving into the past and excavating history and memory. Typically, representations of the past are seen through traces it has left in the present, with emphasis on key figures and big historical markers, to immediately evoke the sense of whichever period to the audience. But, in Taiwan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hou Hsiao-Hsien made historical films espousing a totally different philosophy of history, one that embraces what we could call the outtakes of history. There, every ordinary and historically “insignificant” person, and every little incident, matters and adds up to a greater overall portrait of a historical context.

Nowhere is Hou’s approach to history more clearly crystallised than in the final scene of The Puppetmaster (1993), a film which covers 50 years of Japanese colonialist rule over Taiwan, and ends on the final day of WW2. In terms of Big History, this is as big as it gets, with especially massive ramifications for Taiwan, which will now be free of their Japanese overlords and return to Chinese jurisdiction. But how does Hou depict this momentous day in his final scene? With battle scenes? With Emperor Hirohito announcing defeat? With politicians signing peace treaties? No. With a landscape-engulfed, extreme long-shot of prosaic rural existence, which could be any other day. In the background, Japanese planes are being dismantled for scrap metal, symbolising the end of WW2 and a half-century of Japanese rule. But in the mid-ground life goes on, it’s just a day like any other for the ploughman and his ox crossing the frame (squint to just about see them in my poor quality screenshot). Mixed into this one shot is a reversal of, and reunion between, the political vs. the personal, macro-history vs. micro-history, official history vs. counter-history.









Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus










This final shot reminds me of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, where here too centre-stage is taken by the modest character of a ploughman plodding his ox-cart along. And if you blink you’ll miss the big occasion hinted at in the title. Where is Icarus in the painting? It takes a while to spot the tiny splash caused by a pair of legs in the sea. This is a way of bringing so-called Big History back to its roots, back to the common people forgotten and overshadowed by grand narratives about massive events and heroic individuals. These two ploughmen may be present on days of momentous occasions, but their lives go on, unaffected. Bruegel, just like Hou’s historical film, was dealing with the oppression of a colonialist power, in his case the Spanish, in Hou’s case the Taiwanese. In both cases it’s a reminder that time does not discriminate: History is what happens when day-to-day life keeps ticking by.


Lav Diaz’s ‘Stretched-out time’








Film plays out in time, so the time lived by the spectator as they watch are an inextricable part of the films themselves. One case in point is Herz Frank’s 1978 film Ten Minutes Older, in which one ten-minute shot focuses on one boy’s changing expressions as he watches a film inside a cinema. We age ten minutes while watching him watch, just as the child in the film does every time. True to Tarkovsky’s dictum, those ten minutes take on a physical dimension, materialised by the act of watching the film. The weight of time can be further loaded by making takes last longer than required. Hence the well-known joke about Theo Angelopoulos (applicable to quite a few other directors): When one of his films starts you check your watch and it says six o’clock. Three hours later, you check again and it says five past six.

The Filipino Lav Diaz is another who ‘sculpts with time’, sometimes stretching film duration to its limits. We’re used to films of around 100 minutes long, but there’s no sacred decree that it must be so. Watching Diaz’s films instead demands a certain commitment and stamina, whether it’s in one sitting or multiple parts – viewing and experiencing these films forces you to give your time to them. And quite a fair bit of time too … Death in the Land of Encantos (2007) is 9 hours long, From What is Before (2014) is 6 hours, Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery lasts 8 hours, and his epic Evolution of a Filipino Family is almost 10 hours long. Norte the End of History (2013) and his latest The Woman Who Left, which just won the Golden Lion at Venice, seem like mere breezes in comparison at 4 hours each.

Like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Diaz is keenly interested in national memory, and Evolution of a Filipino Family spans 16 years (1971-1987) of brutal martial law under the Marcos dictatorship, seen through the fates of one family. The process of making the film was itself a stretch of time. Diaz, funding his own film by working as a waiter in NYC, took nine years to complete it, in which time actors changed, grew, and some even died. It was a sort of Boyhood before Boyhood, and watching it is like flipping the pages of a family photo album. In terms of pure plot content, what happens to the family would not be out of place in some of the melodramas Filipino audiences are used to.

But the difference is time: Diaz has 10 hours to play with, and he can space the plot action apart, stretch the narrative structure of his film like an elastic sheet. In between significant events, then, there’s seemingly ‘dead time’, in which people just do ordinary things: eat, fish, farm, laze languorously. It’s a specific concept of time, a specific outlook on living, and it makes for a unique method of telling a heart-breaking family saga. Films like Diaz’s can not only slow us down into meditative states, but also reinvent our expectations of cinematic time. A sort of time-pressure is felt, and, invisible though it is, it becomes a physical presence, a dimension that we feel. How apt that, as Diaz points out in interviews, the root word for time in his language originally meant ‘governed by space’.

The Sandwich Man (1983)

June 30, 2016








Director(s): Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Zeng Zhuangxiang, Wan Ren.

Country: Taiwan (Republic of China).

Year: 1983.

Duration: 105 mins.

Context: Early film of the Taiwanese New Wave.

Themes: Taiwanese identity; Colonialist influences over Taiwan.

Form: Three-part omnibus film, each part directed by one of three different directors.


During the 1960s and ’70s, Taiwan enjoyed the fastest economic growth in the world. In just two decades, it underwent a vertiginous modernisation from a largely agricultural society to an industrialised, high-tech one, with metropolitan centres like Taipei. This radical transition brought a sea-change in lifestyle, traditional culture and value systems; the economic miracle, built as it was on economic and political support from the US, and on free-market export of consumer products, came hand-in-hand with westernisation. Thus into the complex melting pot of Taiwan’s hybrid identity (it had already been ruled by five different regimes in the past, including European settlers, the Qing Empire, the Japanese, and the Chinese Nationalists) was thrown the implicit cultural colonial power of outside influences, especially the US and Japan.

Ironically, the modernisation process caused friction with the official traditionalist stances of Taiwan’s conservative regime and its discourse of regaining an idealised Chinese mainland from the claws of the Communists. The children of the mainlanders who’d flocked to Taiwan, in order to flee Mao’s China in the late ’40s, knew of no other home but the island. Yet they were taught to cherish the never-seen mainland as some hallowed promised land they’d one day return to. No wonder Taiwan has so long harboured crises of cultural identity, homelessness, and instability. In reaction to this, certain writers and artists in the 1960s and ’70s attempted to found a distinctly Taiwanese culture, embracing the local language over the officially decreed Mandarin (forcefully imposed as the national language) and the everyday stories of working-class life in Taiwan as opposed to the grandiose narratives of winning back China spouted in political rhetoric.

One such ‘nativist’ writer was Huang Chunming, whose literature, initially stifled by the regime, was deeply influential in creating a cultural and artistic sense of roots for Taiwan. For The Sandwich Man, the second omnibus film commissioned by the state-owned CMPC studio to give a rejuvenating boost to the Taiwan film industry (the first, In Our Time, I already wrote about here including a bit more background on Taiwanese Cinema), three of Huang’s short stories provided the source material, all set in the 1960s.






The first of the film’s three episodes, and the one which gives it its overall title, was directed by the filmmaker who’d go on to be the most acclaimed of all the Taiwanese directors, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. After his early romantic comedies for CMPC, this was a major shift, into more serious filmmaking and the first step towards his status as the artistic driving force behind the Taiwanese new wave.

Almost entirely in Taiwanese dialect, Hou’s episode shines a light on those left behind by the economic boom. The titular character is an unemployed father and husband, desperately trying to drag his young family out of poverty and hunger. He begs for a job at the local cinema as a sandwich man, a human advertisement with boards straddled over his shoulders to draw the punters in, which he’s read works well in Japan (a subtle hint at the theme of external cultural colonialism to be further developed in the next two segments).

Thus this man effectively humiliates himself, walking around in absurd clown make-up and (in a society where this matters a great deal) literally losing face, all while ineffectively trying to entice people to the local movie theatre. In the end, his boss at least recognises his determination and hires him to work on-site at the cinema, but by then, comic irony strikes, his toddler son no longer recognises him without the clown outfit and cries until he dons it again.

Despite this seemingly sweet ending, there’s a lot of darker stuff at play in this short. Something irreversible has occurred by the end, with the father permanently scarred. His predicament functions as perfect metaphor for, as Jonathan Rosenbaum put it, “the problem that arises from pretending to be someone else temporarily and then finding that this temporary identity had become one’s main social identity”, i.e. the identity crisis faced by Taiwan itself. Taboo issues like abortion crop up, when the father questions the family’s financial ability to raise the second child the wife is pregnant with. In one brief, chilling moment when things are particularly grim, subtly downplayed by Hou’s minimalist observational style, we even see the father perhaps contemplating killing his son because things are so bad. If this sounds dramatic, it is but Hou doesn’t let it play as such. His episode is the simplest and the most beautiful. For the first time in Taiwanese cinema, a film said to local audiences, look this is also what being Taiwanese is.








Zeng Zhuangxiang’s second episode is the least subtle of the three and probably the weakest, but its tonal shifts still make it an interesting oddity as well as a piquant social commentary. ‘Vicki’s Hat’ is about two bumbling travelling salesmen with Japanese pressure cookers to flog in a rural town.  The younger of the two takes a keen interest in the locale and in particular strikes a friendship with a local schoolgirl who never takes off her hat. This brief premise suffices to announce all the main themes here: the rise of consumer goods, the influence exerted by Japan, the relation between rural and city folk.

What makes this short film stand out though, and eventually fall down too, is its precarious tonal balancing-act. Part comic satire (technology goes amok when the salesmen attempt to demonstrate their cookers to bemused elderly villagers), part unlikely-friendship story with a hint of drama (the salesman becomes obsessed with finding out why the schoolgirl never removes her hat), it finally veers into anti-capitalist diatribe with a slightly over-the-top but still shocking ending, in which the elder salesman is brutally maimed by his own pressure cooker. Consumerism, advertising, sales slogans are revealed as shallow but alluring artifice, hiding a grittier reality, just like the schoolgirl’s hat. So much for the progress of the ‘economic miracle’, have a look at how things still are under the surface, Zeng’s episode says to us.








Finally, this mix-tape of Taiwanese tales ends with Wan Ren’s segment. ‘The Taste of Apples’, the funniest and most satirical, directly confronting the previously hinted-at topic of neo-colonialism. When an ordinary working-class Taiwanese labourer is injured by an American car, the US embassy is so eager to avoid any diplomatic tension with the island securing its Cold War strategic position in the Pacific, that everything is done to keep the victim happy. Initially baffled, he and his family are whisked to a hospital, promised compensation, offered a place in a US high school for their disabled daughter, and even given apples, a rare imported delicacy which they stare at in awe before daring to eat them.

Even if it has less darkness than the first two parts, both mood-wise and literally (most of it being set in an immaculate hospital with walls glaring in their overexposed whiteness), Wan Ren’s episode abounds with black humour, bittersweet pokes at Taiwanese backwardness in relation to their American ‘saviours’, and diplomatic machinations and fears raging in the background. But in the end this is a very obvious, and even angry, indictment of the forced hierarchical relationship with a dominant foreign power.

In a way The Sandwich Man is a bit like its title character, literally an advertisement for cinema, a showcase for a new breed of Taiwanese film, calling onto audiences to come see an authentically local type of cinema. This was cinema as a tool for national and local self-affirmation, in the face of cultural hegemony from the US (of course since then Hollywood has won the day but that’s another story) and backward-looking (or West-looking, obsessively towards the mainland), oppressive ideology. It won a landmark victory, which helped usher in the liberalisation and democratisation of Taiwan in the 1980s. The CMPC bosses were unhappy with certain parts deemed ideologically suspect and wanted cuts to the film, especially to Wan Ren’s satire. This enraged the directors, as well as the younger more forward-minded elements working within the studio, who mobilised the sympathetic members of the press to launch a full-on attack against the conservative censorship of the state studio. Embarrassed by all the negative coverage, the studio backed down and let the film be shown to the public without cuts.

The film was a surprise box-office success, perhaps partly due to the censorship furore, but more down to the fresh appeal of seeing on-screen the realities of life in Taiwan, with linguistic accuracy and previously taboo themes, for the local audience. Huang Chunming’s realist chronicling of the Taiwanese transition from rural to urban, old to new, had proved germane to this younger generation’s attitude in seeking a freshly Taiwanese perspective on cinema and in using the medium to deal with the conflicting identities and forces at play on the island.

Films in Dialogue: Full Metal Jacket vs. The Human Condition

May 9, 2016



Following on from my previous video juxtaposing a Kubrick classic with a potential,  and unexpected, Japanese influence, here is another… besides the obvious narrative similarities between Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and Part II of Masaki Kobayashi’s Human Condition Trilogy (both being about the dehumanising effects of military training, the bullying of a slightly weaker recruit, and the defiance of a slightly stronger one), several scenes and settings seem to echo each other directly, most notably the suicides which both occur in lavatories… was Kubrick more of a Japanese cinema buff than we might have assumed? You decide!

In Our Time (1982)

May 2, 2016









Director(s): Tao Te-Chen, Edward Yang, Ko I-Chen, Chang-Yi.

Country: Taiwan (Republic of China).

Year: 1982.

Duration: 106 mins.

Context: The first film of the Taiwanese New Wave.

Themes: Coming-of-age; Taiwanese identity.

Form: Four-part omnibus film, each part directed by one of four different directors.


Film industries have always taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to innovation. Is a certain formula bringing in audiences and profits? Then commission a dozen more similar films. Understandable from a financial perspective perhaps, but somewhat uninspired artistically, and what happens when things really are ‘broke’, when the studios and producers are forced to seek a novel approach to rekindle audience interest? This is the kind of situation the Taiwan film industry found itself in, circa 1980.

The steady diet of romantic melodramas and epic martial-arts tales, directed by the same old veterans, was no longer cutting it for the dwindling, jaded Taiwanese audiences. And when they did go to the movies, it was more often than not to see the more appealing imports from Hong Kong, much smaller island than Taiwan but booming in film production and riding the crest of its ‘new wave’. There were no two ways about it, Taiwanese film needed a rejuvenation and the Hong Kong model, of letting loose young filmmakers to try something new, was the one to follow. Luckily the heads of the state-sponsored film studio CMPC had enough foresight at the helm to come up with a cunning plan. First-time directors would be offered opportunities working on multi-part omnibus films, each making individual segments (20-30 minutes long) to be released as one anthology film. This maximised the number of debutants gaining experience per film made, while spreading the costs and risks. First result of this initiative: the four-story film In Our Time, released in 1982.

Four stories, filmed by four different directors, all newcomers and mostly trained in film schools abroad where they picked up new ideas about cinema quite divergent from those of their Taiwanese elders. Each story is set in a different decade, moving forward chronologically (1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s) and with protagonists of increasing ages as time goes on (a boy of about 8, a young teenage girl, a university student, a married couple moving into their own flat for the first time). Thus goes the basic premise of In Our Time, but as with all omnibus films, not all parts are as strong as the others. In this case, the first two episodes are the most impressive and satisfying.






The opener is ‘Little Dragonhead’, directed by Tao Te-chen, and centred around young Hsiao-mien, a loner kid, neglected by uncaring parents who seemingly prefer his brother, picked on at school, and whose only friend (and comfort blanket) is his beloved toy dinosaur. Essentially all the stakes are stacked in his favour to make us root for this boy, all the more so as the perspective is limited to his point-of-view and we, unlike the uncomprehending adults, get a glimpse into his inner world, which he’s often forced to escape to. We’re also in the privileged position of being able to recognise his artistic talent, whereas the adults around him mistakenly attribute his crayon portrait of his dinosaur to another child, and in any case they’ve had it up to here with his dinosaur obsession.

Things finally look up when he strikes a sweet friendship with the daughter of a neighbour, until irony strikes and adult matters get in the way: these neighbours are moving abroad permanently the next day and Hsiao-mien only realises at the very end that this was a farewell visit. True to its logic of being told from a boy’s viewpoint, we only find out when he does, setting the limits of what a child can know in an adult’s world.

What impresses most, alongside the intelligent performances induced from the children, is the nostalgic atmosphere conjured up by Tao. The 1950s setting is important, just like the 1960s one shall be in Yang’s segment, for both directors were making films about children set in the period of their own childhood. Wistful memories thus colour the mood, the dreamy dissolve-laden editing, and especially the music. All along Hsiao-mien’s tale is a period soundtrack, of 1950s pop, both Chinese and Western, most catchily the twangy guitar of Santo & Johnny’s instrumental 1959 classic Sleep Walk. It’s the kind of sound which would be at home in a Wong Kar-wai soundtrack, casting young Hsiao-mien as one of Wong’s romantic jilted-loner protagonists, before they even existed.







No less atmospheric or languid is ‘Expectations’, Edward Yang’s section. Even more dissolves, fades-to-black punctuating scenes, soft hazy lighting, classical music on the soundtrack, the Beatles and the Vietnam war on TV, once again the sense of dreamy nostalgia is created through editing, image and sound. So often in coming-of-age stories it is young boys facing their rites of passage, so Yang’s exquisitely delicate treatment of teenage girl Hsiao-fen’s adolescent amorous awakenings is particularly refreshing.

It all kicks off when a new tenant, handsome, young, and male, moves into the spare room of the home Hsiao-fen lives in with her mother and older sister. Shortly, the lodger becomes the target of our protagonist’s secretly blossoming crush, and an ocean of previously unknown feelings is opened up to Hsiao-fen. She no longer has time to go play with her best school-friend, a short bespectacled boy. The internal reveries she loses herself in are rendered with sensitive economy by Yang through both sound and purely visual film-making.

One inconspicuous pan, from Hsiao-fen to her sister at the dinner table, sets up a later, far more crucial, identical camera movement. It occurs at the end of one of the most striking sequences in this short, a dissolve-montage of Hsiao-fen eyeing up the young male tenant topless on the front porch, his athletic body fetishised by the camera’s female gaze (uncommon in a medium which has so often personified the male viewer) which blends every slow shot of the boy into the next, only interrupting this stream to cut-in to a shot of a rapt, wide-eyed Hsiao-fen. But the final shot, in one brief pan, reveals that all along Hsiao-Fen’s sister was there too, sharing the view and she, being older, is far more likely to have a shot with the handsome tenant. What we thought was purely Hsiao-fen’s fantasy daydream, has been partially usurped by her own sister, setting up a triangular relationship that defines Hsiao-fen’s learning curve in this film. She’ll realise how mean she was to her little school-friend and make amends, but nonetheless something within her can never be the same again.










The third story, Ko I-Cheng’s ‘Leapfrog’, ushers in a sharp change of mood. The dreamy atmosphere is replaced by comic chattiness from the get-go, when our student protagonist, ‘Fatty’, playfully introduces himself to us narrating over shots of he and his university cohorts. No, he’s not the slightly chubby one in the middle as his nickname might lead us to assume, he chimes, but the skinny one on the edge of the frame, that’s him. Because Fatty is now a dedicated member of the college biathlon team (hence the amphibian reference of the title) and has shed all traces of his former overweightness.

This is a young man with more than a passing resemblance to Benjamin in The Graduate. He has a restless sense of energy but no clear outlet for it, other than the upcoming biathlon race. He’s alienated from his businessman father who doesn’t quite understand him or why he wants to change his major to literature. He’s awkward, especially, and to his great frustration, around the opposite sex, but his inner monologues (while shyly glimpsing a pretty girl in a lift) reveal he’s a wannabe poet, reciting romantic lines in his head which he’d never have the audacity to actually utter. The dreamy dissolves and fades of the first two parts are replaced with a more conventional editing rhythm, their nostalgic mood into a rather odd allegory culminating with the biathlon race, where Fatty challenges a team of foreign students from the US… is this a commentary on Taiwan seeking to break free from its status as satellite? On its national pride? On a narrative level this is the most confused of the four, but plenty of scenes getting us to know Fatty reveal assured film-making touches.









Part four, the least introspective and least concerned with romantic impulses, enters into even broader comedy territory, with a healthy dose of satire. Chang Yi’s ‘Say Your Name’ now has a young married couple as its central characters. They’ve just moved into a new apartment in the city and their first day reserves madcap situations aplenty; the wife forgets her name badge on her first day at work and is refused entry into her building (a literal identity crisis) while the husband, who stayed home. gets locked out when trying to retrieve his newspaper from the letterbox, wearing nothing more than a towel. Efforts to seek help from bemused, suspicious neighbours, or uncaring commuters in the street, leave him as frustrated as his wife is by locking horns against a bureaucratic wall. Adulthood and city living have their own shares of problems, life doesn’t get any simpler after the rites of passage of childhood and adolescence we witnessed in the previous parts, but if the film’s increasingly comic structure is anything to go by, maybe we become better at laughing it off.

In Our Time and its chronological coming-of-age structure (of its characters, of Taiwan growing into the urbanised island of the final episode, and of Taiwanese cinema itself) did win back Taiwanese audiences, at least momentarily, thanks to its novelty factor; an on-screen reflection so close to their own lives and experiences was a first for Taiwanese cinema. The Taiwanese New Wave, which it nudged into life, would go on to bigger, better things, pairing its earthy realist concerns with a radical long-take, long-shot aesthetic. From our vantage point, naturally, this film seems most noteworthy for announcing Edward Yang’s talent to the world, but as a whole, despite its unevenness, it is rich with promise and more than a little charm in its four different slices of Taiwanese eras. The highlights, ‘Expectations’ and ‘Little Dragonhead’, certainly belong alongside the best films about children 1980s world cinema had to offer.