Film Scouts Reviews

"Haonan haonu (Good Men, Good Women)"

by Henri Béhar

Best-known Stateside for "Daughter of the Nile" (1987), "A City of Sadness" (1989) and "The Puppetmaster" (1993), director Hou Hsiao-hsien continues his dramatic contemplation of human nature in history: "The essence of time is change," he writes. "What I want to show in this film is what remains constant: the true color and energies of men and women."

Revealing, yet again, the shift of human ideals against the background of Taiwanese history, "Good Men, Good Women" may be the most disturbing, demanding, yet exhilarating film shown in a long time (and certainly in the 33d New York Film Festival's selection).

Less "directed", in the traditional sense of the word, than "choreographed" to an intricate piece of music that may appear complex on paper yet is absolutely luminous in performance, "Good Men, Good Women" weaves three different periods in Taiwanese/Chinese history.

In present-day Taipei, a young woman, Liang Ching, is harassed by an anonymous caller who has stolen her diary and faxes her pages from it. An actress, she is in rehearsal for a film called "Good Men, Good Women", about a real-life couple, Ching Hao-tung and Chiang Bi-yu, who were anti-Japanese guerrillas in China in the late 1930s-early '40s and were arrested as subversives by the Guo Min-dang when they returned to Tapiei (Liang is to play Chiang Bi-yu). The film-within-the film is, therefore, set in the political repression of "the White Terror", the Chinese civil war in which the Nationalists were made a mainstay of anti-communism by the United States and right-wing repression was enforced.

It would be unfair to reduce Hou Hsiao-hien's film to its tortuous narrative, for it would negate what makes it priceless: its tenderness, fright, and sensuality that only images--not words-- can convey. Hou Hsiao-hsien is an exceptional *film maker*: his sense of movement, his tempo, pull you into a world of mystery, giving you to solve a puzzle whose elements don't quite fit--but isn't that what life is all about? And the underlying question is, Whatever happened to our youth's ideals and political involvements?

Be willing to forsake whatever Occidental penchant you may have for the MTV-styled pyrotechnic editing that clutters and confuses, and you shall be rewarded with a genuine masterpiece.

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