Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the
Strange Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien

By James Udden

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 15, no. 1, pp.120-45

The Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-hisen, is known around the world for a unique film style that includes intricate lighting, improvisational acting and most notably a proclivity towards exceptionally long takes. What is little understood, however, is how he first developed such a rarified style. Many have opted for generalized cultural explanations. What is overlooked is Hou’s early apprenticeship in a low-budget commercial film industry in Taiwan starting in 1973. Working his way up, Hou was steeped in the rigid practices of this film industry, and he found them wanting. Many of the salient features of his style today were initially responses to the limitations Hou found in a specific set of industrial conditions. Once he became a director, he dismantled these practices one by one, laying the groundwork for a style that now makes him one of the most important directors in the world today.