At 12:40 a.m. on April 30, 2023, in the still chilly late spring, despite being in the midst of the May Day holiday, the streets of Beijing were deserted at night, with only a few passersby and occasional food delivery riders hurrying by.
Meanwhile, at the China Film Archive near Xiaoxitian Arch, the crowd had not dispersed. In the main theater, over 600 film enthusiasts stared quietly at the big screen until the music at the end of the film “City of Sadness” started playing. The crowd burst into loud applause, paying tribute to this film that premiered 34 years ago and bidding farewell to the 13th Beijing International Film Festival.
When Hou Hsiao-hsien directed “City of Sadness,” it was less than two years after the lifting of martial law in Taiwan. Breaking through the taboos of the time, the film was the first visual work based on the “228 Incident” and the first Chinese-language film to win the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
“City of Sadness” is a rare epic work by Hou Hsiao-hsien. The story takes place over a four-year period from 1945 to 1949, reflecting the impact of the grand historical events on the lives of the Lin family’s four brothers in Keelung, Taiwan.
Around the turn of the millennium, with the popularization of home audio-visual playback devices and the rise of the internet, most mainland Chinese film enthusiasts were able to watch the VHS copies of “City of Sadness” on their own TVs or computers and regarded it as a “masterpiece.” “Actually, back then, many scenes were barely visible, everything was so dark. It wasn’t until I watched the 4K digital version at the Beijing International Film Festival that I discovered many details that I hadn’t noticed before,” said a seasoned film enthusiast to a Southern Weekend reporter.
This is not the first time “City of Sadness” has been screened in mainland China. As early as 2012, the China Film Archive screened the film’s celluloid version as part of a Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective, and the director himself was invited to attend. Due to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s health issues, such exchanges are unlikely to happen in the near future.
On April 18, 2023, at noon, just as the Beijing International Film Festival started selling tickets, tickets for all three screenings of “City of Sadness” were sold out within 6 seconds. It was even rumored that scalpers were reselling tickets on idle fish (a Chinese online marketplace), with two tickets for “City of Sadness” being inflated to 8,000 yuan, indicating the film’s status in the hearts of fans.
After the first screening of the 4K version, the host asked the age of the audience present. More than half of the audience members were born after the birth of “City of Sadness.” They did not experience the grandeur of the original premiere, but they still possessed a keen interest in and new understanding of this classic work.