The Winter

dir. Li Han-hsiang

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Enormously influential on such future masters as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee, this delicate, deceptively small-scale romantic drama was an important precursor to the Taiwanese New Wave.

Best known for such lavish epics as The Kingdom and the Beauty and The Love Eterne, veteran director Li Han-hsiang reveals a more intimate and nuanced side with the rarely screened film, whose understated tone was enormously influential on both Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee (who used the lead actress, Ling Fang, in several films), as well as many directors of the Hong Kong New Wave. The Winter tells the deceptively simple story of a woman returning to her hometown and reconnecting with an old family friend, a restaurateur who cannot bring himself to confess his love for her. His feelings are finally revealed when he challenges some small-time hustlers to a fight at a street festival; after tending his wounds, she leaves town, only to return years later with a child. Much like the socialist realism of the Mainland, Taiwan's state-sanctioned "healthy realism" offered a scrubbed-clean cinematic image of the country free of poverty, immorality or left-wing politics; within its gentle, small-scale story, The Winter defies these conventions, depicting a Taiwan beset with far more fraught social conditions and offering a more complex view of sexual morality. It's also a very beautiful film, its night scenes cast with a tremulous glow that heartbreakingly mimics the couple's tentative, fragile emotional connection. "A delicate and touching work that is now considered one of the best Chinese-language films of the 1960s" (Sam Ho, Hong Kong Film Archive).