New Films by Jia Zhangke and Hou Hsiao-Hsien Have U.S. Premieres at New York Film Festival


The 53rd New York Film Festival, which runs from September 25 – October 11, 2015, includes new acclaimed films from two of Chinese language cinema’s greatest directors, Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯) and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (侯孝贤).  Additionally, the festival has invited both directors for talks, and a film about Jia and a wuxia classic will be screened.

Making its U.S. premiere, Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart 《山河故人》 looks at China’s changing values at three moments: 1999, 2014, and 2025, each presented with a different aspect ratio, like Grand Budapest Hotel.  Shen Tao (played by Jia’s longtime muse and wife Zhao Tao) is a vivacious young woman in Fenyang, Shanxi Province (the director’s hometown) who leads group dance performances to the Pet Shop Boys’ ironic socialist propaganda-wrapped capitalistic “Go West” when she is wooed away from a humble coal miner by an arrogant entrepreneur who names their son “Dollar”.  She drifts into melancholy as she becomes disaffected by her marriage and life of empty luxury.  The film “morphs into a futurist essay on China’s global diaspora and its dark destiny of emotional and cultural alienation” in its final act when she visits her son in Australia where he is a twenty-something college dropout to find him alienated from her and their home country.

Though both agree that this final act is heavy-handed, Variety says “even when it falters, Mountains May Depart is never less than a work of soaring ambition and deeply felt humanism”, and The Guardian says it is a “staggeringly ambitious piece of work from a film-maker whose creativity is evolving before our eyes.”

Mountains May Depart screens on Monday, September 28 at 6 PM and Tuesday, September 29 at 9:15 PM.  The second screening is preceded by HBO Director’s Dialogue: Jia Zhangke at 6 PM, where Jia, whose films have long been supported by the New York Film Festival, will talk about the film and his body of work, in which “[t]he world itself is a character…urging the characters on and informing the speed of life. ”

You can also learn more about Jia from acclaimed filmmaker Walter Salles‘ (Central Station and Motorcycle DiariesJia Zhangke: A Guy from Fenyang in which the two visit Jia’s hometown and other places that have played a role in his films and meet with friends, family, and colleagues.  The biopic makes its North American premiere at the NYFF.

Salles joins the 9 PM screenings on September 30 and October 1.

Also featured at this year’s festival is the highly anticipated U.S. premiere of historical martial arts epic The Assassin 《刺客聶隱娘》 by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien who won the Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.  Based on a story by Tang Dynasty writer Pei Xing (裴钘) collected in the three-volume Tales of the Marvelous 《传奇》, the story of Nie Yinniang, a woman who was abducted when she was ten-years old by a nun who trained her to be an assassin for the purpose of killing corrupt officials.  After a number of successful kills, Nie spares the life of one target out of pity for his young son, prompting the nun to target her.  A translation of the original story can be read here.

Variety says the film is “a mesmerizing slow burn of a martial-arts movie that boldly merges stasis and kinesis, turns momentum into abstraction, and achieves breathtaking new heights of compositional elegance: Shot for shot, it’s perhaps the most ravishingly beautiful film Hou has ever made, and certainly one of his most deeply transporting.”  For Hou, the film, shot in Inner Mongolia and Hubei Province, pays tribute to the wuxia novel and film genre on which he grew up, and accordingly gave painstaking attention to the realism of the time and place of the film.

Learn more about the film from his interview with Aliza Ma for Film Comment and from an excerpt of an interview conducted at Cannes with the director, stars Shu Qi and Chang Chen.

The Assassin screens on October 9 at 9 PM and on October 10 at 1 PM with Hou attending both screenings.  It’s standby only at this point, but the film is sure to get distribution in the coming months.  After the October 10 screening, at 3:30 PM, Hou will talk with the NYFF about his films.  Again, the event is standby only, but the NYFF frequently shares videos of live events online afterwards.

A restored version of Hou’s breakthrough film, the coming of age The Boys from Fengkuei 《风柜来的人》 will also be screened on Friday, October 9 at 6 PM with Hou in attendance.

Finally a restored version of King Hu’s (胡金銓) wuxia classic A Touch of Zen 《俠女》, which won the grand prize for technical achievement at Cannes in 1975 and whose title inspired the English title of Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin 《天注定》will be screened Monday, October 5 at 9 PM.

An earlier version of the article incorrectly identified Jia Zhangke’s hometown and the setting of Mountains May Depart.