#150: A City of Sadness

A City of Sadness (1989) - Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien

Part of the Top 150 Films series

Tony Leung is my favourite working male actor. A single glance or eyebrow movement or shoulder shuffle conveys so much emotional density in any film he’s in, but his best showcase is A City of Sadness. Hou Hsiao-hsien masterfully uses delicate mise-en-scène, perfectly timed edits and a gorgeously drained colour palette to portray the slow, turbulent buildup to the February 28 Incident in Taiwan. Filtering the events through one family (and increasingly, as it progresses, Leung’s deaf-mute photographer) allows Hou and Leung to capture the emotional intensity of the growing political situation without diminishing its wider historical significance or confusing its audience, who may not be as familiar with the complex history. But, for me, it all comes back to Leung’s performance as Wen-ching: as a reluctant anchor in a sea of monumental historical change, Wen-ching holds himself together even when his family and newfound country are falling hopelessly apart.