Execution in Autumn

dir. Li Hsing

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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As a young man languishes in prison awaiting execution, his manipulative mother goes to extreme lengths to ensure that he produces an heir to carry on the family line, in this intense and dazzlingly stylized historical drama.

An intense historical drama of enormous emotional impact, Execution in Autumn was a departure for acclaimed director Li Hsing, best known as a pioneer of the "healthy realism" genre devoted to a clean image of Taiwan. Set in Han-era China, Execution concerns a bullish young man who is sentenced to death for three murders he committed during a brawl. As he languishes in prison waiting for his date with the executioner, his manipulative mother attempts to free him — or at least ensure that he produces an heir. Li's scenario allows him to subtly critique Confucian values by setting them against these extreme circumstances: How much should we sacrifice for our families? To what ends will we go to make sure that a family line continues? The film's heightened emotions are more than matched by its dazzling visual flair, from the perfectly composed and designed sets to the spectacular use of smash zooms and unsettling music cues; the long-held introductory shots of each of the four seasons as the young man awaits his fate are exceptional works of art in themselves.