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Harvard Film Archive to stream two films by Mou Tun-Fei from January 21-30

  • Date:2022-01-18

In the 1960s, while Taiwan was still under a repressive political climate, Mou Tun-Fei (牟敦芾, 1941-2019) shot his first two feature films, “I Didn’t Dare to Tell You (不敢跟你講)” and “The End of the Track (跑道終點).” Mou was one of the young directors who advanced Taiwan's avant-garde movement by shooting experimental films that confronted the mainstream culture of the time. The two films will be screened online at the Harvard Film Archive Virtual Cinematheque from January 21-30.

Mou was born in Shandong, China, and relocated to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War in 1949. After graduating from the National School of Arts (國立藝專, 即今臺灣藝術大學), Mou shot his first feature film, I Didn’t Dare to Tell You, in 1969, and he directed The End of the Track the following year. However, these films were not released for unknown reasons. While his initial works therefore received little attention, Mou then moved to Hong Kong, joined the Shaw Brothers film production company (邵氏電影公司), and directed a number of notable films. When Mou returned to Taiwan in 1990, he donated the two films he made at a young age to the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Center (國家電影及視聽文化中心). Mou then moved to Philadelphia, where he lived until passing away in 2019. Throughout this time, his first two films were never publicly released.

Unearthed after half a century, I Didn’t Dare to Tell You and The End of the Track finally appeared on the big screen at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (臺灣國際紀錄片影展, TIDF) under the title “Imagine the Avant-Garde: Taiwan's Film Experiments in the 1960s (想像式前衛:1960s的電影實驗)” in 2018. The presence of the two digitally scanned films attracted widespread attention, and they were subsequently re-screened at eminent art institutes, including the Lightbox Film Center in Philadelphia, Anthology Film Archives in New York, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I Didn't Dare to Tell You (1969) depicts a primary school student, Da-Yuan (大原), who secretly works a night job to pay off his father’s gambling debts and constantly dozes off in class as a result. When the teacher investigates, a series of family disputes ensue. The End of the Track(1970) focus on two main characters, Shao-Tung (小彤) and Yung-Sheng (永勝), who are publicly mocked as homosexual partners for being inseparable friends. When Yung-Sheng dies suddenly in a training accident with Shao-Tung present, Shao-Tung feels heartbroken and guilt-ridden. Since both families fail to understand him, and burdened by solitude after losing his best friend, Shao-Tung falls into a downward spiral.

Mou depicted the struggles of the lower class and confronted the taboo of homosexuality through the work he created in a repressive political climate, which on a broader level reflected how the most daring and creative artists in Taiwan formed their own avant-garde movement in the 1960s. At a time when mainstream film culture was dominated by Taiyupian (Taiwanese –language cinema) and “healthy realist” melodramas, experimental films by Mou and other young directors helped piece together many missing aspects of Taiwanese film history.

Mou was also filmed in a documentary titled “The Mountain (上山)” by Richard Chen (陳耀圻) in 1966 when he was a college student. In a scene in which Mou was interviewed about what he wanted to do with his life after graduation, Mou declared that cinema would be his life work by answering with the statement “director or death (不當導演寧願死).” While Mou made fourteen films in total, the two films included in this series are the only feature films he directed in Taiwan, and they are among the nation’s first independent titles.

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