It’s as David Bowie sang: revolution comes in the strangest ways. When Apichatpong Weerasethakul curated a series for New York’s Film at Lincoln Center this spring, the 35mm screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Puppetmaster––a 30-year-old Taiwanese feature with 1/15th the Letterboxd logs of the Mission: Impossible movie that opened yesterday––constituted the biggest (local) cinephile event I’ve seen in… well, who could count so far? Scarcity’s to thank, of course: last screened in New York seven years back, it’s (supposedly) the sole English-subtitled print in the United States and was accordingly treated like a brittle object––cinema essentially on the edge of oblivion.
So this news comes like a salve for the medium itself. Italy’s Far East Film Festival announced that next year’s edition, running April 24 to May 2, 2024, will host restorations of Hou’s The Puppetmaster and A City of Sadness, Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern and To Live, and Johnnie To’s The Mission commissioned by producer Chiu Fu-sheng––not so coincidentally recipient of the next festival’s Golden Mulberry Award for Lifetime Achievement––and sourced from original negatives. (While A City of Sadness recently earned some restoration, word has it that was a digitization, not a restoration of the negative.)
At a (perpetual) moment of (still) debating canonization vis-à-vis recent lists and their impact from accessibility, it’s difficult to overstate the newfound––maybe just first-time––attention being lavished here, or elsewhere, or what we can be greedy enough to hope’s next.
For now we can celebrate by bumping Chung Chi-wing’s all-timer theme for The Mission: