Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Our Time, Our Story (2002)


Review #1,348

THE SCOOP
Director:  Hsiao Chu-Chen
Plot:  A documentary about the New Taiwan Cinema and its impact as recounted by those who experienced and contributed to its rise and decline.

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  -
Runtime:  113min
Rating:  Not rated (likely to be PG13)
International Sales:  Hsiao Chu-Chen

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: N/A)
There have been a number of feature-length documentaries made over the decades about the New Taiwan Cinema movement, most recently Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema (2014), and in 2002, Our Time, Our Story, which is largely a comprehensive look at the movement for anyone new to the subject. 

Directed by Hsiao Chu-Chen, Our Time, Our Story (itself a play on the poetic titles of such Taiwanese films as A Time to Live, a Time to Die (1985), That Day, On the Beach (1983), Goodbye, South, Goodbye (1996), etc.) is made in a by-the-books style, charting chronologically the rise of the movement, and setting the context in which the movement thrived with much fervour in the ‘80s, and which later came at the crossroads of fierce debate on its perceived negative impact on the Taiwanese film industry in the early ‘90s. 

Hsiao's film makes it all easy—though not very entertainingly—to absorb with countless interviews with filmmakers, critics and a range of people who made their mark in the movement.  Most, if not all, of them speak from their experience, and while the documentary doesn’t benefit from any perspective from an objective outsider, it is also not inherently a self-congratulatory piece. 

Esteemed personalities like director Hou Hsiao-Hsien and cinematographer Lee Ping Bin talk about the impact of their work, often cautious not to discount the efforts of their peers.  There’s enough insight to entice film lovers and historians, but seemingly not enough bite to intrigue them.

In contrast, Yang Li-chou's documentation of fifty years of the Golden Horse Awards in The Moment (2014) charts a more riveting path that parallels and pegs Taiwanese film history to the trajectory of the festival.  Granted they are both dissimilar works made with a different motivation in mind, but Yang’s film is more propulsive, and hence, more fascinating. 

The most important takeaway from Our Time, Our Story for me was a point made about art versus commercialism—you can’t just essentialize art to mobilize an entire industry.  For very long, I had (stubbornly) held the notion that art triumphs everything else, but it cannot really sustain an industry; at most it can sustain a decade of new wave. 

Thinking back to my country’s filmmaking scene, Singapore filmmakers share a similar reckoning—we cannot force anyone to make an art film or a commercial movie.  One should follow the path that invigorates.  We need to try to achieve an ecological balance without pitting the two camps as ideological rivals, when in fact we are competing with the eight-headed dragons of the world.

Verdict: By-the-books documentary on the New Taiwan Cinema movement of the ‘80s, with enough insight to entice film lovers and historians, but not enough to intrigue them.

GRADE: B-






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