Update: “Hou Hsiao-hsien’s family released a statement today confirming that Hou has Alzheimer’s. Initially, it didn’t affect his filmmaking work, but long COVID has forced him to stop. His company continues to operate, but he will no longer work,” reports Kevin Ma, from a translated report by Now News. “Hou’s family also adds that Hou is healthy and that his illness has also helped his family forge a tighter bond because he is spending so much time at home. They also ask for privacy and peace.”
Long-rumored, still unconfirmed, but seeming ever closer to terrible reality is Hou Hsiao-hsien’s retirement amidst struggles with dementia. It was alarming to read (via Twitter user @mattmccrac) that legendary Asian cinema scholar Tony Rayns claimed “Hou’s health is failing him and he likely won’t make another film.” A bit of dialogue with a colleague alleged this further; Indiewire‘s now spoken with both another source and curator George Crosthwait, per whom the director “will certainly not work again.”
Turning this awful news into the realm of tragic is knowing Hou, early last year, had not only been in advance stages of pre-production on his long-gestating Shulan River, but was looking to reunite with Chang Chen on a feature about an elderly father and his son. It comes, too, at a moment of renaissance for a long-rare filmography too often labeled as difficult: the new restoration of Millennium Mambo became a slight sensation among rep crowds, while a single screening of The Puppetmaster at Lincoln Center attracted New York cinephiles like a moth to a flame––this two months before its own restoration (alongside A City of Sadness‘) was announced.
The obvious truth is that few people (in the east or west) have seen all of Hou’s work––18 features, three shorts, and a brief documentary I’m including below––thus leaving plenty room for discovery and new-to-you experiences. But knowing that corpus, among the greatest of the last 50 years, has reached its end point can only ring as a terrible loss. For now I’ll revisit my interview with him from around The Assassin‘s release and plan revisits.