Video Sundays: Hou Hsiao-hsien and Horror

Recommended viewing: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's vision of Taiwan inspires a horror video game that reckons with the Taiwanese White Terror.
Kelley Dong
The Taiwan Film Institute has released a two-minute (but nonetheless impressive) clip demonstrating the before and after of the digital restoration process for Hou Hsiao-hsien's 1982 film Cheerful Wind, a romantic comedy that follows the relationship between a photographer and the blind man who becomes the subject of her latest work. Though Cheerful Wind seems a more lighthearted example, Hou's observations of the political skeleton that envelops everyday life appear to be an overall and very strong influence on Devotion, an atmospheric horror video game by Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games.
Set in Taiwan between 1980 to 1986, the game pairs a bloodied tale of family and religion against a backdrop of political suppression—the timeline takes place during the last days of Taiwan's White Terror, a period of martial law from 1947 to 1987, marked by the mass execution and imprisonment of thousands deemed anti-government, spies, or communist sympathizers. Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness (1989) reckons with the White Terror as it unfolded in the 1940s; from that film Devotion borrows its dark tones of blue, orange, and red, as well as its images of rituals as they intertwine to tighten familial bonds. By playing the game—which guides the player through first-person perspective through a purgatorial loop of haunted rooms that continually mutate—one encounters the bursts of emotion (including terror) that simmer and flicker throughout Hou's portraits of Taiwan, devastation and dreams externalized.

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