In the first half of this century, young Li Tienlu joines a travelling puppet theatre and subsequently makes a career as one of Taiwan's leading puppeteers. During World War II the Japanese... See full summary »
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In the first half of this century, young Li Tienlu joines a travelling puppet theatre and subsequently makes a career as one of Taiwan's leading puppeteers. During World War II the Japanese rulers of Taiwan use the traditional Chinese puppet theatre for their war propaganda. Only after the war street theatres start playing again. Written by
Otto Oberhauser <Oberhauser@cc.univie.ac.at>
Like Hou's previous film, A City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster deals with Taiwanese history, in this case the period of Japanese rule up to the end of World War II, as told through the real-life story of puppet player Li Tian-lu. But whereas City of Sadness created powerful scenes by often putting its characters in the thick of major historical incidents, The Puppetmaster de-dramatizes events, focussing more on loosely connected scenes of ordinary life. The closest we ever get to actual war is the funeral of a soldier and a sudden blackout. And yet the weight of history bears down inextricably on these people. In the course of the film, Li will be displaced, acquire wealth and lose it again, and bury loved ones, all because of circumstances beyond himself.
Hou and his screenwriters play around to great effect combining Li Tian-lu's narration of his life story with the cinematic recreation of it: Li, a terrific raconteur, is first heard telling an anecdote off screen; then around the one-hour mark, he suddenly appears on screen, in a set of the film, telling a story directly to camera; later still he begins an anecdote which the film finishes for him and finally, when he talks about the end of the war, the film repeats visually what he has told us verbally. In so doing, they're casting doubt on whether what you see is a depiction of objective reality or a re-enactment of subjective memory. Throughout, Hou films from a fixed camera-position from afar, only allowing himself the occasional pan left or pan right, yet the film never feels constrained or detached, on the contrary, Hou's style feels incredibly free and open to the spontaneity's of life.
The Puppetmaster is a joy to watch and a joy to return to time and again.
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