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The Authorship of PlaceA Cultural Geography of the New Chinese Cinemas$
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Dennis Lo

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9789888528516

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888528516.001.0001

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Hou Xiaoxian as Ambassador

Hou Xiaoxian as Ambassador

Performing Cross-Strait Histories in the “Taiwan Trilogy”

(p.121) 5 Hou Xiaoxian as Ambassador
The Authorship of Place

Dennis Lo

Hong Kong University Press

This chapter closely traces the evolution of Hou Xiaoxian's contentious modes of place making while he shot on-location in China for the “Taiwan Trilogy," where Southern Chinese locales sometimes substituted for Taiwan’s historical settings. Location shooting in China for City of Sadness presented Hou with his first opportunity to perform a role as a cultural ambassador in an unprecedented period of cross-strait geopolitical thaw. After cross-strait relations became more normalized, Hou widely publicized his intentions of location shooting in Fujian for The Puppetmaster (1993). During this shoot, Hou articulated his theory of “authenticating life,” or the reenactment of lived experience. To authenticate the life of famed Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tianlu, whom he believed to be a living embodiment of Chinese-ness, Hou re-staged live budaixi shows in Fujian, hoping the environmental aura of present-day China would conjure for Li memories of colonial-era Taiwan. Assistant director Chen Huaien, however, counters that it was Taiwanese culture which required salvaging, not China’s. “Authenticating life,” Chen implied, relied on inauthentic means of reenactment to produce what only felt superficially authentic. The final section explores this contradiction as it is manifested in Good Men, Good Women (1995) – Hou’s first, and final film to feature present-day Chinese settings. I demonstrate that the filmmakers were unable to experience their production environments in Guangdong as anything more than through a “tourist gaze.” Hou finally experienced the constraints of “authenticating life,” and more broadly, the complexities of salvaging cultural Chinese heritage in an increasingly volatile period of cross-strait relations.

Keywords:   Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Cross-strait politics, Taiwan Trilogy, City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster, Good Men, Good Women, Li Tianlu, Chen Huaien, Tourist gaze, Runaway production

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