Katherine Lee (李應平) recalled the first time she watched Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) A City of Sadness (悲情城市) in 1989. The President of the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation (龍應台文化基金會), then a university student, said the film stirred up considerable controversy because its subject matter examined the events surrounding the 228 Incident. The foundation will host a screening of Hou’s film followed by a discussion with the director tomorrow at Zhongshan Hall beginning at 12:30pm.
“I was a little shocked because the history [of 228] was hidden at that time,” she told the Taipei Times. “The cinema was very crowded. Most students saw the movie.”
Martial Law had only been lifted two years before and many thought the depiction of the violence and repression suffered by Taiwanese at the hands of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) soldiers would open up old wounds. It was — and many think still is — a topic the KMT would rather people forget.
Two decades later, the scars have yet to heal, and controversy still surrounds this formative and traumatic event in Taiwan’s post-World War II history. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has worked toward reconciliation between his party and 228 victims since serving as Taipei mayor. Shortly after he took office in May, however, the KMT-controlled legislature halted construction of the planned 228 National Memorial Hall and slashed the budget for the 228 Memorial Foundation. Last week KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) proposed canceling Peace Memorial Day (held on Feb. 28) as a public holiday.
Lee said the foundation is showing A City of Sadness in the hope that younger viewers will discuss its subject matter as she and her university friends did 20 years ago.
WHAT: Thinker’s Salon: Lighting the Darkness — Taiwan’s Political Awakening (在昏暗裡，當突然亮了—台灣的政治覺醒)
WHERE: Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98 Yenping S Rd, Taipei City (台北市延平南路98號)
WHEN:Tomorrow. The movie runs from 12:30pm to 3:30pm. The lecture and discussion run from to 3:30pm to 5:30pm
TICKETS:Free, but those attending must register in advance by calling (02) 3322-4907, or logging on to
DETAILS:A City of Sadness is in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese and Shanghainese with Chinese subtitles; the post-movie lecture and
discussion will be held in Mandarin
In 1947, a KMT soldier allegedly beat an elderly black-market vendor after she refused to hand over the cigarettes she was selling. The event led to an uprising against the KMT and subsequently the White Terror, a KMT purge that saw tens of thousands of Taiwanese rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and executed.
Hou’s complex tale centers on four brothers and how their lives are irrevocably changed with the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) regime. A Shanghai mafia boss has the oldest brother murdered, while another brother is framed as a Japanese collaborator and sent to a KMT prison, where he goes insane. The second brother had disappeared during the war. The youngest of the four brothers is a deaf-mute who operates a small photo shop and is involved with a resistance movement against the KMT.
The film won the Golden Lion award at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.
Lee said it is important that a new generation of Taiwanese watch and discuss the film and understand the history surrounding the events it depicts. She added that even those who have seen the film often fail to understand its greater historical backdrop.
“[My colleague] has seen the movie but didn’t realize it was talking about 228,” she said.
She said many potential viewers are turned off by the movie’s length and complex narrative.
“Young people don’t want to go and watch such a long movie and they often don’t want to think about the issues it raises,” she said.
The lecture to follow the screening is titled Lighting the Darkness — Taiwan’s Political Awakening and is the first in a series of discussions that examine Taiwan’s political, economic and social history through the eyes of its artists. Popular actress Brigitte Lin (林青霞) will speak on March 21 followed by novelist and children’s writer Huang Chun-ming (黃春明) on April 1. Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), the foundation’s president, is scheduled to moderate all three events.