Cast: Fu Pi-hui, Gu Hsiang-ting, Ou Wei, Tang Pao-yun
Best Feature Film, Best Director, 1972 Golden Horse Awards
2020 restoration by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute
Director Lee Hsing, who passed away at 91 this August, was the face of Taiwan’s first two decades of feature filmmaking. After a brief, but hugely successful stint in Taiwanese-language cinema, he switched over to the Mandarin realm just as the KMT government was starting to invest heavily in it as the nation’s official dialect. While Our Neighbors, Oyster Girl, and Beautiful Duckling brought him acclaim in the early 1960s, it’s his 1972 drama EXECUTION IN AUTUMN that holds up most powerfully today.
Like many of Lee’s films, EXECUTION IN AUTUMN is a complex foray into the ethics of family and society. Set predominantly in a single location–a Han dynasty prison–the film follows the spoiled and brutish Pei Gang as he awaits his fate after committing a triple homicide. All his life, his grandmother defended his bad behavior because he was the wealthy clan’s sole male heir. Murder in cold blood proves a more difficult task though. Pulling every connection, dusting off every family antique to bribe unreliable officials, she faces the disturbing reality that the only transaction that will work is a human one.
Throughout, Lee toys with our sympathies, daring us to root for a rich, insolent, and philandering criminal, all while a third character emerges as the key in this drama of acceptance and indebtedness. By all means a “healthy” exemplar of the KMT’s commitment to a patriarchal Confucianism, EXECUTION IN AUTUMN also lays bare the ethical costs of such a commitment, allowing the film to endure far beyond its conservative times, and be rediscovered in this stunning new restoration.
Thursday, November 4, 2021