A City of Sadness (1989)
"Bei qing cheng shi" (original title)

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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 2,496 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 12 critic

A beautiful, historical film based upon the complex lives of four brothers.


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Credited cast:
Shu-fen Hsin ...
Sung Young Chen ...
Jack Kao ...
Wen Leung
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Wou Yi Fang ...
Ai-yun Ho ...
Bg Brother Chie
Chien-ru Huang
Tian-Lu Li ...
Ju Lin
Lih-Ching Lin ...
(as Liqing Lin)
Ikuyo Nakamura ...
Chen-Nan Tsai
Chang-Chiang Yang


A beautiful, historical film based upon the complex lives of four brothers.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | History


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Release Date:

21 October 1989 (Taiwan)  »

Also Known As:

A Cidade da Dor  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


Tony Chiu Wai Leung's character was made a deaf-mute because the film used direct sound and Leung could not convincingly speak Mandarin or Taiwanese. See more »


Followed by Good Men, Good Women (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

That rarity, a quiet epic
22 April 2015 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Hou Hsiou-Hsien's "A City of Sadness" is one of Oriental Cinema's most rewarding challenges. I have returned to it several times, always with a sense of awe, understanding it a little more on each occasion but still not always sure what is actually happening on the screen. Although this makes the experience sometimes frustrating, the miracle is that it never detracts from the gut feeling I have had from the very first viewing that I am watching a masterpiece. An ambitious attempt to capture the immediate post second world war period of Taiwanese history by following the members of one family through fragments of their daily lives rather than a carefully constructed continuous narrative, Hou's work resonates with tremendous feeling. As is usual with this director, the audience has to work hard to supply connections in a film without joins, in order to understand who is who and what is actually going on. I have to admit that some of the scenes of gang violence still elude me, but, these apart, the light is beginning to shine through. It is clear that the old man with the beret who sits often staring vacantly is the owner of that densely furnished restaurant; that he has four sons. The eldest, the sturdy looking one, seems perennially mixed up with figures of a gangster underworld, the second has returned from the war mentally damaged, the third did not return from active service in the Phillipines and is presumed dead. And then there is the youngest who has a photographer's studio and seems completely apart from the rest of the family by virtue of a sensitive, gentle nature and the disability of complete deafness brought on by a childhood accident. It is his fortunes and those of the young nurse he eventually marries that provide the sense of audience empathy that even the most obscure cinema need in order to work its magic. Their scenes provide moments of great tenderness in a relationship that relies entirely for communication on the written note such as the occasion when she needs to tell him about the beauty of a German folksong that is being played. When the country is placed under repressive martial law with massed executions for dissenters we have snippets of the deaf mute's experiences. There is a particularly telling moment when he is in captivity, unable to hear the sound of the firing squad from which he somehow mercifully escapes. In "A City of Sadness" it is short scenes such as this that one remembers so vividly. That it provides the experience of a sweeping epic without recourse to any great scenes of action is both its mystery and fascination.

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