Rotten Tomatoes
Cancel Movies Tv shows Shop News Showtimes

A City of Sadness

Released Sep 15, 1989 2h 38m Drama List
100% Tomatometer 13 Reviews 90% Audience Score 1,000+ Ratings Soon after Japan relinquishes control of Taiwan in 1945, the Lin brothers face hardships from the changing culture. Bar owner Wen-heung (Chen Sown-yung), the eldest brother, falls foul of local gangsters, Wen-sun disappears, and Wen-leung, scarred by his experiences in the war, ends up in an insane asylum. Deaf-mute photographer Wen-ching (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), the youngest brother, decides to make a stand and fight the Kuomintang government from China that is assuming power. Read More Read Less

Critics Reviews

View All (13) Critics Reviews
Richard Brody New Yorker The movie conveys the director's intensely personal struggle at the crossroads of large-scale history and private memory; with understatedly bitter irony, he depicts the birth of a nation at the price of a family's dissolution. Oct 6, 2014 Full Review Dave Kehr Chicago Tribune A City of Sadness is a great film, one that will be watched as long as there are people who care about the movies as an art. Rated: 4/4 May 20, 2014 Full Review Tony Rayns Time Out Hou turns in a masterpiece of small gestures and massive resonance; once you surrender to its spell, the obscurities vanish. Jun 24, 2006 Full Review N.T. Binh (Yann Tobin) Positif The overworked term "masterpiece" to designate an artistic triumph as well as the successful completion of an ambitious undertaking can be applied here without reservation. May 3, 2022 Full Review David Walsh World Socialist Web Site Hou's film, which follows the Lin family's story, is an ambitious attempt to dissolve history into dramatic and poetic terms. Feb 16, 2021 Full Review Anthony Kao Cinema Escapist Watching 'A City of Sadness' will give you a feel for all the different ways that people, even to this day, disagree about how to tell the story of Taiwan's past. Aug 14, 2019 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

View All (80) audience reviews
li l Brilliant! I saw this in Shanghai International Film Festival and was deeply touched by Lin family's story. It reveals a history that is hard to find in library. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 08/31/23 Full Review s r 1001 movies to see before you die. It was important to me to learn about the history of Taiwan. Could this have been better told and more informative? Yes. However, the long shots were well crafted and beautiful. The synthesizer music distracted. It was on Internet Archive. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review William L A City of Sadness is a comprehensive portrait of one family's experience of a nation in turmoil - liberated from an occupying force after a half century only to be treated with brutality by their supposed countrymen, the Chinese Nationalists; in fact, it's so comprehensive and detailed that I am sincerely worried I didn't pay enough attention to it in order to get the full experience. Well-framed, well-acted, tragic, and bitter, Hou Hsiao-hsien's first truly international breakthrough film tackles family structure in an environment that exudes a dangerous aura, where the rules of interaction between the Kuomintang and the Taiwanese people have yet to be established, and the fate of both the island and the Lin family feels terribly unpredictable. The family is not presented as a staunchly resolutem inseparable band; they feature often conflicting personalities and are at the mercy of their environment, but at the same time the family is virtually all that they can rely on. Intimately knowledgeable of the stitched-together identity of the Taiwanese people, showing a love for its landscapes and culture while acknowledging a terrifying past, A City of Sadness is certainly not a cheerful epic, but it is a purposeful one. (4/5) Rated 4 out of 5 stars 12/13/21 Full Review Audience Member This is an excellent film about learning Taiwanese history after the KMT' s arrival after the establishment of RPC. The best part of the movie is that the director tries to convey the political value through presenting how a family suffered at that time. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/09/23 Full Review dustin d My first impression of A City of Sadness was it's difficult to follow. About five minutes in I was already lost in keeping track of the characters. I think this had to do with suddenly switching focus from the eldest brother, Wen-heung, to a voice-over narration from Hinomi, a secondary character, then dropping us into a family gathering with too many characters to focus on. The lack of close-ups also made it difficult to distinguish characters and keep track of the action. As someone with only passing knowledge of post-war Taiwan, the significance of certain events was lost on me. The 2-28 incident was a major event in the island's history, in which thousands of people were arrested or killed, leading to the imposition of martial law. The incident mostly happens off screen and comes off as a mild riot. It wasn't clear to me this was the 2-28 incident--I thought it was a skirmish leading up to the major historical event. The 2-and-a-half hour movie has no plot and comes off as a reductive look at a family's life over the late '40s. The movie is best in its short bursts of mad-cap action, which somewhat resemble those of Fukasaku Kinji. Hou Hsiao-hsien did a good job recreating the era, and I imagine this movie would would reward closer viewing and resonate more with viewers who were familiar with the era. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review nick s A City of Sadness is an epic historical Taiwanese drama, the first film to deal with the events of so-called Incident 228 and White Terror. It is obvious that the director had to stay out of strong political criticism making the film, as it was still 1989. He tries to show the White Terror in a neutral way giving an example of the life of one extended family. He shows the family in the 1940s covering several years and jumping from older events to the subsequent years. Zhang Yimou would later make something similar related to Chinese history in his To Live (1994). While Zhang Yimou is showing the resilience of Chinese people, Hou charges his feature-length film with the fear, becoming an essential part of people's everyday life. A City of Sadness recreates the events of the 1940s where corruption was under control, and everybody could have been arrested for far-fetched accusations for bonds with guerillas or without any accusations at all. The life of The Lin family we see on the screen is destroyed by the Terror, as one brother dies at the war, the other one is assassinated, the third one suffers brain injury and the last one gets arrested. Many episodes focus at the protagonists whispering or speaking silently to show everybody is under surveillance. They are afraid of talking since you can get arrested for anything. This is probably why Hou shoots very often through the doors like somebody is always watching while people talk or ruminate. The director makes a great and ironical move introducing the protagonist Wen-ching (portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-wai). Wen-ching is deaf-mute, and it seems like this the way one can take the things better - not hearing what is happening around and not sharing the opinion. However, Wen-ching gets arrested several times before he finally disappears in the jails. Moreover, the director uses Wen-ching to illustrate the linguistic conflict of post-war times, which was another part producing tension in Taiwan. The irony is that the dialogues in A City of Sadness are present in 5 languages and different dialects, while the protagonist is both deaf and mute to understand it. Despite the fear and horror we observe, one can hardly say that Hou Hsiao-hsien judged those times very harshly. It is obvious, we see that the events of suppression were awful and it led many families to collapse. However, it was the price the nation had to pay to become stable. The price was certainly too high from the modern point of view, but Hou Hsiao-hsien doesn't give us a strict answer on how to take it. He only acts as a chronicler depicting the drastically important historical events of Taiwan in a perfect way, with dim colours and severe atmosphere of fear. A City of Sadness is a long thought-provoking film disclosing the establishment of Taiwanese nation after the II World War, and it is certainly worth watching, from the historical perspectives. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Read all reviews
A City of Sadness

My Rating

Read More Read Less POST RATING WRITE A REVIEW EDIT REVIEW

Cast & Crew

A Summer at Grandpa's 100% 90% A Summer at Grandpa's Red Sorghum 85% 83% Red Sorghum Millennium Mambo 84% 70% Millennium Mambo The Bride With White Hair 100% 74% The Bride With White Hair Ju Dou 100% 89% Ju Dou Discover more movies and TV shows. View More

Movie Info

Synopsis Soon after Japan relinquishes control of Taiwan in 1945, the Lin brothers face hardships from the changing culture. Bar owner Wen-heung (Chen Sown-yung), the eldest brother, falls foul of local gangsters, Wen-sun disappears, and Wen-leung, scarred by his experiences in the war, ends up in an insane asylum. Deaf-mute photographer Wen-ching (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), the youngest brother, decides to make a stand and fight the Kuomintang government from China that is assuming power.
Director
Hsiao-hsien Hou
Producer
Fu-Sheng Chiu
Screenwriter
T'ien-wen Chu, Nien-Jen Wu
Production Co
Artificial Eye Film
Genre
Drama
Original Language
Japanese
Release Date (Theaters)
Sep 15, 1989, Original
Runtime
2h 38m