Hou Hsiao-Hsien, an iconic figure in the Chinese film industry, has recently confirmed his retirement from the world of cinema due to a diagnosis of dementia. This unexpected revelation about the 76-year-old director has sent shockwaves through the cinematic community and beyond.
Born in Guangdong Province, Hou spent the majority of his career in Taiwan. His films, characterized by their social-realist lens, provide intimate portraits of everyday individuals against the backdrop of Taiwan’s ever-changing socio-political landscape. Such a style has earned him the reverence of both critics and audiences globally, cementing his place as one of the leading filmmakers of our time.
The news has prompted reflection on Hou’s remarkable career, with many highlighting the acclaim of his martial arts masterpiece, The Assassin. Starring Shu Qi, this film not only showcased Hou’s signature storytelling prowess but also garnered him the Best Director award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2015.
Given the stature of Hou in the cinematic community, it comes as no surprise that the announcement of his retirement has sparked significant conversations online. China’s popular social media platform, Sina Weibo, witnessed a surge of interactions about the director, registering nearly 20 million views in just a day. While many netizens poured out their concerns for Hou’s well-being and extended wishes for his health, others voiced their sorrow over the potential loss of the anticipated film Shulan River, also set to feature Shu Qi.
Shulan River was particularly notable as it held a deep connection with Taipei’s history. Hou, in a past conversation with Film Comment, expressed his fascination with the city’s transformation over the years. He recalled how Taipei, originally nestled within a basin crisscrossed with waterways, witnessed a significant change as urbanization took center stage. Many of these waterways, which were once the lifeblood of aboriginal tribes and paddy irrigation systems, have now been overshadowed by the rapid growth of infrastructure, lying hidden beneath roads and buildings.
Hou further mused on the idea of these waterways having a sentient essence, envisioning a river goddess mourning the loss of her domain. His interest was not just in the geographical transformation of Taipei but in the emotional and historical narratives intertwined with these waterways. He emphasized the irony of many residents living their entire lives in Taipei, unaware of the waterways’ rich heritage that lies just beneath their feet.
While the cinematic community mourns the loss of potential masterpieces from Hou, it’s undeniable that his legacy will continue to inspire generations of filmmakers. His unique perspective on storytelling, combined with a profound understanding of human emotions, ensures that his films will remain timeless classics in the annals of cinema.