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108 minutes · 2013
This 1995 feature completes Hou Hsiao-hsien's trilogy about 20th-century Taiwan. Like its predecessors, it focuses on a specific period (in this case 1949 to '95) and art form (cinema itself). An actress prepares to play a real-life anti-Japanese guerrilla in 40s China who was arrested as a subversive after returning to Taiwan in the 50s. Images evoked by the actress's past as a drug-addicted barmaid alternate with her imaginative projections of the film about to be shot. Despite the complexity of the haunting structure, which suggests three interwoven tenses—present, past, and a curious blend of future conditional and speculative past—this is the shortest and most direct film of the trilogy, and the visual mastery is stunning. Reproaching contemporary Taiwan politically by praising the courage of an earlier generation, this film was controversial in its home country, but it's probably the most artistically accomplished feature I saw that year. In Mandarin with subtitles.

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