A Borrowed Life

dir. Wu Nien-jen

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Famed for his collaborations with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang, acclaimed screenwriter Wu Nien-jen made one of his few directorial efforts with this finely detailed and politically incendiary drama about how conflicting loyalties in the Sino-Japanese War put the relationship between a father and son to the test.

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Best known in the West as the star of Edward Yang's Yi Yi, Wu Nien-jen was the screenwriter for many of Taiwanese cinema's greatest films, including Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Time to Live and the Time to Die and A City of Sadness. This epic, finely detailed study of a coal-mining family during the Japanese occupation and beyond is one of the few films he directed himself. Sharing with Hou's films a highly deliberate mise-en-scène and a sophisticated rendering of family dynamics, A Borrowed Life proved to be politically incendiary in its depiction of how conflicting loyalties in the Sino-Japanese War put the relationship between a father and son to the test. While the kindly family patriarch remains in thrall to the Japanese culture that he has known all his life, his son, in disbelief at his father's unthinking faith — especially following revelations of wartime atrocities against the Chinese people — meanwhile grows enamoured of the new Nationalist regime in Taiwan. "One of New Taiwanese Cinema's masterpieces ... Few films have so vividly re-created the sensation of having known another human being for one's entire life, while simultaneously evoking the suspicion that all along one has loved a stranger" (Andrew Chan, Film Comment).

From the collection of George Eastman House