GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN (HAONAN, HAONU) (director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien; screenwriters: Chu Tien-wen/ Bi-Yu Chiang-novel; cinematographer: Chen Hwai-En; editor: Liao Ching-song; cast: Annie Shizuka Inoh (Chiang Bi-yu/Liang Ching), Chung Hao-tung (Lin Chung), Jack Kao (Ah Wei), Lim Giong (Chung Hao-Tung), Vicky Wei (Liang Ching’s Sister), Jieh-Wen King (Ah Hsi), Bo-Chow Lan (Hsiao Dao-Ying), Li-Chin Lu (Mrs. Hslao), Chen-Nan Tsai (Ah Nan); Runtime: 108; Fox Lorber; 1995-Taiwan/Japan)
“Ms. Inoh gives an inspiring performance that evokes a genuine sympathy for both of her characters.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Hou Hsiao-hsien (A Time to Live and a Time to Die/A City of Sadness/The Puppetmaster) presents his third part of a loosely drawn history trilogy of China in the 20th-century. It is about the effects of war on some Taiwanese patriots and is inaccessible until it slowly becomes clear what the masterful director is up to at the conclusion. It’s a film that intermingles a personal story of a modern Taiwan actress and a true political event that happened in the 1950s. The story is multi-layered; it uses as its theme the crimes against citizens during the anti-Communist campaign waged during the 1950s, giving it a complexity that takes place in three different time periods (past, present, and in the imaginary future). The reward is seeing a great bit of filmmaking that comes from the heart.
The story revolves around the real life events of Chiang Bi-yu (Annie Shizuka Inoh), who ventures from Taiwan to the Chinese mainland with her new husband Chung Hao-tung (Lin Chung) during the 1940s to join the anti-Japanese resistance along with three other friends. This is being enacted in a ‘film within a film’ starring Liang Ching.
Once in China, Chiang Bi-yu and Chung Hao-tung are suspected of being Japanese spies and are almost executed but are saved by a government official. When Chiang is with the resistance, she’s forced to give up her first-born child. When the war ends, the family returns to mainland China and Chung takes a job as the principal of a school and starts a Marxist newspaper. As the Red Army fought for control of China, Chiang Kai-shek — supported by the Americans — rooted out all communists by force. Soon Chung and Chiang are rounded up and interrogated. Chiang is eventually released to her children, while Chung is unceremoniously shot when placed against the wall.
The story is told from the present. A bar-girl turned actress, Liang Ching, is mourning her gangster boyfriend, Ah Wei (Jack Kao), who was killed three years ago. She feels tortured by his memories and of her hedonistic past, as she’s receives silent phone calls and faxes of the pages stolen from her diary. Liang Ching also begins to believe that she’s the character she’s playing.
The film offers much to ponder about the lessons from the past and how rotten both sides can be during war. It’s a smoothly accomplished film of a ‘film within a film,’ as it uses memories that are personal and those that are part of history to show how we can’t easily distinguish the two. By the film’s conclusion we feel the personal loss of both men who were killed, even though one might have been an innocent victim and the other might have gotten what he deserved. It was no easy trick to make both men’s deaths be greatly felt by each woman. Both woman’s parts are played by Annie Shizuka Inoh. Ms. Inoh gives an inspiring performance that evokes a genuine sympathy for both of her characters.
REVIEWED ON 10/10/2001 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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