Set aside a couple hours this weekend to watch a talkback with a filmmaker whose name might not be a household one in Western culture. Even if you don’t instantly recognize his name, or you’re not entirely familiar with the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, trust me, the hour-and-43-minute discussion is well worth it.
Hou Hsiao-hsien has been making films for three and a half decades. His latest feature, “The Assassin,” debuted at Cannes this year to great acclaim. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or, Hou’s seventh nomination for the prize, starting with “The Puppetmaster” in 1993. Though “The Assassin” didn’t win that one, composer Giong Lim won for his soundtrack, and Hou took home the prize for best director (decades earlier, he also won the Jury Prize at Cannes for “The Puppetmaster”).
Interestingly, much of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s success must also be shared (and attributed) to his long-time collaborator, screenwriter Chu T’ien-wen. With a few rare examples otherwise, Chu has written nearly every film Hou has directed, and “The Assassin” is no exception. In fact, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s only feature that Chu T’ien-wen did not write — since 1984 — was “Flight of the Red Balloon” in 2007, which Hou co-wrote with François Margolin. Earlier this year, Olivier Assayas, director of the gorgeous and brilliant “Clouds of Sils Maria,” interviewed the duo through Belgian Cinematek. The full conversation is now on YouTube for all of our enjoyment, insight, and edification.
A long time fan of Hsiao-hsien’s work, Assayas leads the conversation with the giddiness of a star-struck filmgoer. Early on, he explains to those in attendance that one of the most profound and important experiences he had as an audience member watching Hou’s work was, “realizing that a young filmmaker was reinventing Chinese cinema. There was this young man in Taipei who had somehow found the answer to a question—which ultimately proved a key question in the history of Chinese filmmaking—of how do you make personal films in Chinese, and how do you make films that have this obvious, immediate connection to international filmmaking of that time?”
Check out the full dialogue below for more on Hou Hsiao-hsien, his collaborations with Chu T’ien-wen, and an answer as to why it has been eight years since the director’s last feature, when he normally releases a new picture every two to four years.