Dir. Li Xing, Taiwan, 1971
seen by Michael Koresky
Sight Unseen is an ongoing Reverse Shot series for which writers must view and write an essay on a movie playing theatrically for which they have no prior knowledge whatsoever—only a title and, if necessary, a running time. With Sight Unseen, we hope to cast away the usual presumptions and prior knowledge we have about a film before seeing it.
Like most American cinephiles, I harbor a knowledge of Taiwanese cinema that doesn’t travel much further than the earliest works of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, or Edward Yang—all the way back to the (gasp) 1980s. So a repertory series called Taiwan Stories: Classic and Contemporary Film from Taiwan, as ridiculously wide-ranging as that title may be, sounds like a tempting corrective. Yet in any retrospective, each film requires the proximity of those programmed around it to grant it the proper context; by wandering in to just one of the films, randomly selected, one runs the risk of not having the historical understanding needed to make sense of it all. But should this be required to simply enjoy the film at hand? Upon choosing to see Autumn Execution at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, I didn’t know its year or director. The film would have to exist as its own contained universe, outside of any sort of historiographical significance it might have. Continue reading.