Taiwan film-maker eyes Oscars

Hou Hsiao-hsien talks about his hopes for The Assassin and his next project

Shu Qi (above)

LOS ANGELES • Acclaimed Taiwanese film-maker Hou Hsiao-hsien has racked up numerous international awards in his career, but today he is aiming for the Oscars with his latest movie The Assassin.

Hou, on tour in the United States ahead of the upcoming US launch of the movie, sat with Agence France-Presse to discuss The Assassin - among 81 foreign Oscar hopefuls - Hollywood and his next project.

Hou acknowledged that The Assassin, a slow-burning movie set in ninth-century China, may not appeal to a wide American audience more used to Hollywood films with a strong narrative and high drama.

"I think they will probably fall asleep," he laughed. "I think people will probably have problems understanding what the movie is about."

Nonetheless, he said the film, which took the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival, would certainly appeal to a niche audience.

The movie sees a trained female killer, played by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, sent back to her home province to kill its governor - who is also the man she loves.

Hou said if the film wins an Oscar at next year's Academy Awards, it would certainly give it more visibility, especially in Europe, where it has yet to be distributed.

"We know that an Oscar can have a very practical and significant influence on the rest of the world," he said.

"But if we win the Oscar, there is a certain anticipation, and then I'm afraid that the audience will be disappointed when they see the film.

I think they will probably fall asleep... I think people will probably have problems understanding what the movie is about.

TAIWANESE FILM-MAKER HOU HSIAO-HSIEN (above), on The Assassin, which stars Shu Qi

"This is the kind of movie that requires a certain kind of focus, a certain kind of disposition to be fully appreciated.

"For better or for worse, it will be categorised as an art film."

The 68-year-old director, who is one of the biggest names in Taiwan's New Wave cinema and whose film credits include A City Of Sadness (1989) and The Puppetmaster (1993), said he was influenced by American cinema, having grown up watching mostly Hollywood movies.

"I remember seeing The God- father after I had read the novel. So Hollywood has been a powerful influence in many ways," he said. "But it's hard to achieve the kind of movies that Hollywood makes just given the kind of resources, the kind of environment I find myself in."

He said given the lack of professional actors in Taiwan, he often turns to non-professional actors.

"I allow them to be who they are. I explore the quality that they have and work with that," he said.

Among his favourite American film-makers are Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers.

And although he does not find much time lately to watch as many movies as he likes, he said he has a soft spot for the "Bourne" film series.

Hou said he is mulling over a movie project that would have as a backdrop an elaborate irrigation system set up when Taipei was occupied by the Japanese.

The system of canals and ditches was covered up by the Japanese when the occupation ended and water still flows underneath.

"So I have been exploring the subject and may include mythological creatures," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Taiwan film-maker eyes Oscars'. Print Edition | Subscribe