Christopher Lupke’s latest book, The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien, will be released next week at the 2016 Association of Asian Studies (AAS) annual conference in Seattle.
Professor Lupke is one of the few who has visited the set of Hou’s latest film, The Assassin (2015) and includes a discussion of it in his book. He will be at the Cambria Sinophone World Series event on Saturday evening in the Jefferson Room at the Sheraton Seattle. It will be a great time to learn more about his work and ask him questions about the book.
In the meantime, we have a short interview with Professor Lupke about the book here to start things off.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
CL: “When I was in graduate school, I happened to see Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985). It totally blew me away. I watched a lot of Chinese films mainly to maintain my listening comprehension, but I was not particularly impressed. Hou’s film was spectacular and subtle at the same time. I immediately knew that Taiwan cinema had changed forever. A few years later, his film A City of Sadness (1989) sealed the deal. I have been fascinated by his work ever since and over a long period of time developed the material for The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Culture, Style, Voice and Motion.
Hou Hsiao-hsien scholarship is now voluminous. This is a testament to the compelling quality of his work. About ten years ago, I realized that if I wanted to say something definitive about his work, I should write a whole book. My basic goal has been to illustrate how his work is intricate on a formal level but still intimately tied to cultural, historical and political issues in Taiwan and East Asia. I knew I couldn’t be exhaustive, but I wanted to be comprehensive. And that’s what I set out to do.”
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
CL: Readers can go to my book as a sort of one-stop for information on any and all of Hou’s feature length productions. I discuss them all to one extent or another. Secondly, on the chapters that feature very close analysis (Chapters 2 through 6), I provide detailed insight that can help unlock some of the mystery of this very intricate and idiosyncratic auteur filmmaker. His films require careful dissection, and that’s what I do. Third, for film lovers who don’t know Chinese, the last chapter is sixty pages of interviews I have translated from Chinese that heretofore has been inaccessible to people who just love Hou because he is a great director.
Finally, the first chapter sketches what I call the “odyssey” of Hou Hsiao-hsien – how he has changed (and not changed) over the past three and a half decades. I tried to say something about all of his feature films. Readers can utilize that chapter to get the big picture of Hou’s contribution. The book as a whole engages much of the secondary scholarship on Hou Hsiao-hsien in English and in Chinese. It is impossible to make reference to it all, because it has become an industry of its own. However, through my book readers will be able to identify many of the other scholars working on Hou Hsiao-hsien and others, and can use my book to track down this secondary scholarship, should they wish to do further study.
Q: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
CL: Hou Hsiao-hsien is one of those geniuses of the screen who, by virtue of the density of his work, will always be of interest to scholars and critics. He’s a classic. There will be no end to Hou Hsiao-hsien scholarship. Additional work needs to be done on the Chinese literary and discursive context that underlies his works. His work also will benefit from more scholarship in English by people who are fluent in not only in the Hoklo (Taiwanese) language but also in Hakka.
It also would be very interesting to pursue in more depth some of the formal aspects of Hou’s work such as set and costume design. It is such an important component of his production. There are now books in Chinese that discuss in further detail the construction of these things in films like The Assassin (2015) and Flowers of Shanghai (1998).
The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series (General Editor: Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania) and the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series (General Editor: John Clum, Duke University).
Read excerpts from The Sinophone Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien.