Chinese lyrical tradition and the Taiwan new cinema: The case of Hou Hsiao-hsien | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 26, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1059-440X
  • E-ISSN: 2049-6710



Many film critics have noted Hou Hsiao-hsien’s distinguished film style and associated it with traditional Chinese aesthetics, but few scholars have succeeded in articulating Hou’s translation of traditional Chinese aesthetics into his cinematic work. This article intends to fill this gap by proposing that the static tragedy is the form that Hou consciously or unconsciously appropriates in his films. According to sinologist Chen Shixiang, the static tragedy of traditional Chinese poetry lacks antagonism and dynamic conflict typical of Greek tragedy, but it embodies a kind of cosmic sorrow that insignificant human beings feel while facing nature’s grand scale and noticing the unstoppable passage of time. While looking or gazing at nature, the poet occupies a bystander’s position; he keeps a sympathetic eye without intervention, detaching himself from the observed world while avoiding being completely indifferent. This bystander’s position has been duplicated in Hou’s films through the use of static camera, long takes and medium/long shots. Through this distinctive style of film language, two of Hou’s films in particular, A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985) and The Puppetmaster (1993), enquire into the universal life circle of birth, growth, illness and death as well as meditate on the impermanence of life against the background of eternal nature, and thereby serve as examples that illustrate the characteristics of static tragedy.


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