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Borders and trajectories: Remapping cities in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films

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Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-hsien (1947–present) is widely recognized as one of the foundations of the New Wave of Taiwan film. Melding both cultural analysis and urban theory, this article explores how cities are represented by the vision of border in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films All the Youthful Days (Hou, 1983), Dust in the Windy (Hou, 1986), Millennium Mambo (Hou, 2000) and A Time for Youth (Hou, 2005). These films draw a spatial topography that maps Taiwan’s history of urbanization and globalization. In the cinematic representation of space, the border is both the geographical space of the rural transforming to the urban and the cultural space of traditional lifestyles transforming to modernity or postmodernity. Hou Hsiao-hsien describes and represents the city from the vision of a ‘rural observer’ who creates an outsiders’ city map. Following Raymond Williams’ theory of the country and the city, the article then approaches Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film works in dialogue with a range of other theorists (Georg Simmel, Barbara Mennel, Fredric Jameson, Micheal de Certeau, Jacques Derrida, Edward Relph, Walter Benjamin, Wolfgang Schivelbusch). Hou’s border worlds enable him to explore change, confusion, alienation and loss. In this way, each of his films can be seen as a microcosm of the changing world in which the rural and the urban open to and interact with each other.
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Keywords: Hou Hisao-hsein (films); outsiders; placelessness; replacement; the border; the city map; trajectories; urbanization

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Shanghai University of Engineering Science

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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