Good Men, Good Women
Lorber // Unrated // $24.9 // February 19, 2002
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 2, 2002
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The Story : Liang Ching is an actress preparing to work on a film about the White Terror, the crackdown in 50's Taiwan on Communists which singled out students who years earlier had arrived to help fend off the Japanese occupation. But, her turbulent past as a drug addicted waitress deeply in love with a hoodlum, Ah Wei, begins to creep back into her consciousness. An anonymous man has been phoning her, always being silent, and faxing her pages from her dairy. She imagines scenes from the yet to be made film and her role as a revolutionary, combined with recollections of her past, and her own current diary entries about the making of the film.

The Film : Good Men, Good Women (1995) is the third part of a modern Chinese history trilogy by acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the previous films in the trilogy being A City of Sadness (1989) and The Puppetmaster(1993). The film is interestingly structured, one part present day (the actress preparing for the film), one part flashbacks (her relationship with Ah Wei), and the other part imagined (what the finished film will look like). There is little doubt that Hou Hsiao-Hsien is quite a talented director embracing such a neat narrative, but I felt a little cold by the proceedings.

It is the kind of film that really I need a second viewing to fully put it in a "love it" or "hate it" category, because right now I am just puzzled. I assume the purpose of the three narratives is to show how the past effects the future, but I could not see how the film about the White Terror atrocities affected the actress in any way- other than it made her lamenting over her lost boyfriend and soiled past seem pretty trivial. I had to read the back of the DVD to make sure I was right, that that was the point of the film, and I cant remember the last time I had to do that, if ever... Hou Hsiao-Hsien's style favors long single camera takes and very informal, lackadaze scenes. Normally, I love that kind of directing (the French minimalists and Ozu come to mind, and I think an Ozu movie, Late Spring? was on a tv in this film), but I just felt bored, so tired of waiting for something to happen that I found myself looking at Liang Ching's apartment walls and saying to myself "Wow, she's got a big French Blue Velvet poster." After all, what else do you do when the actress is just sitting there lounging around for two minutes before slowly walking over to the phone? I just felt the need for some energy, as the film was dour, with long take after take of lazy scenes that I felt told me little about the character. I know these kinds of stylistic choices are meant to provide one with an intimacy to the character, instead of witnessing high drama, you observe the characters in more normal situations. But, as the film dragged on, since I couldn't see the cohesion between the three narratives, I found myself wishing some energy would erupt, that they had handed the camera over to Wong Kar Wai for a scene or two.

So, like I said, I couldn't see Hou Hsiao-Hsien's grand scheme, his attempt to merge the past and present, but maybe other art house foreign film lovers will. My favorite films are usually obtuse, abstract works, and I can find symbolism and unintended surrealism in an Ernest movie. People who are interested in Asian cinema, especially Hou Hsiao-Hsien fans, and people who like narrative challenging film makers like Godard (especially later, post 60's Godard) may want to check it out. I am interested in seeing his other works, but this particular piece failed to hold my attention.

The DVD : Fox Lorber/Winstar DVD. Notorious for their lackluster/horrible foreign film transfers in the early days of DVD (Ran comes to mind), here they do a bit better, but still not without its flaws. Picture - It is an average Asian import, but overall the elements could be much better. Contrast is lacking, with too many grays, and the low lit scenes suffering because of it. There were a few minor spots where the film jitters as well as some occasional dirt and specks on the print. The sharpness and color are okay. By far the most glaring flaw, for me, was in the imagined film scenes, which are in black and white, there is a yellow-red tint to the bright spots, like flame or sunlight through a window. Sound - Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Various languges, Mandarin and Japanese, with optional white English subtitles. Overall very clear and crisp, an excellent, serviceable audio track. Extras - 16 Chapters--- Filmographies and Awards--- Weblink--- Flowers From Shanghai Trailer

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