If We Could Remember Everything, We Would Be Able
to Fly: Taipei’s Cinematic Poetics of Demolition

By Yomi Braester

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 29-62

The essay explores the cinematic imagination of Taipei in the past twenty years and argues that although the city is presented as a metropolis in ruins, the filmic images also challenge the nostalgia for the old spaces. The films examined feature Taipei’s landmarks prominently. Fin-de-siècle decadence, modern anxiety, and the postcolonial glocal become clichés if they are not backed by an understanding of the concrete spatial parameters of the city. Precisely because cinema does not simply reflect sociological processes but rather intervenes and changes perceptions of space and spatial practices, filmic parables rely on specific locales as the material base of urban existence.

Braester focuses on the transformation in Taipei’s cityscape, and in particular the demolition of many juancun, or veterans’ villages, around town. Some of the most eloquent responses are presented in feature films that associate urban change with the erasure of collective memory. He traces the changing attitudes to city spaces and memory, focusing on Da cuoche (English title Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing?, 1983), Feixia Ada (English title The Red Lotus Society, 1994), and Aiqing wansui (Vive l’amour, 1994). These films do not romanticize the ruins yet establish a dialectics between mourning the erased places and recognizing the cinematic and ideological potential of placing urban spaces under erasure.