THE SANDWICH MAN
Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wan Ren, Tseng Chuang-hsiang
30th anniversary digital restoration
In the short list of watershed moments in Taiwanese film history, the release of THE SANDWICH MAN has to be near the top. It prompted the so-called “apple-peeling incident” that snowballed into a public outcry against censorship, and it marked the maturation of director Hou Hsiao-hsien, soon to become one of the greatest filmmakers ever.
THE SANDWICH MAN is comprised of three shorts adapted by the great screenwriter Wu Nien-jen from the short stories of Huang Chun-ming, a central figure in the nation’s nativist literary movement. Hou’s short, “The Son’s Big Doll,” found a cinematic correlate to nativist preoccupations: long takes that make visible the plight of common people, a colorful soundtrack of competing dialects. As critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has noted, it’s a perfect film of Chekhovian proportions, and it showed that Hou, who had until then directed only romantic comedies, could be the serious voice of an entire generation.
Tseng Chuang-hsiang’s short, “Vicky’s Hat” lightens things up, but shoehorns enough satire to segue into Wan Jen’s controversial “The Taste of Apples,” a black comedy about a common man who gets hit by an American’s car, triggering a mad political scramble. With expressionist absurdity, it holds the KMT government’s feet to the fire and mocks Taiwan’s fantasy of American exceptionalism. The short not only kick-started Wan Jen’s career as Taiwanese cinema’s boldest satirist, it also chipped away at state censorship by initiating a stand against the government’s proposed cuts. Today, on its 30th anniversary, THE SANDWICH MAN remains whole, immortalized in an excellent new restored version. –Brian Hu
Co-sponsored by: UCSD Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair in Taiwan Studies, UCSD Taiwan Studies Lecture Series