Yang Li-chou’s documentary Father is about Chen Hsi-huang, an octogenarian master of the budaixi Taiwanese hand puppetry. He is the student, and oldest son, of Li Tien-lu, the foremost 20th century practitioner of the folk art, who, late in life, became a prominent member of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s stock company, with supporting roles in Dust in the Wind, Daughter of the Nile, and A City of Sadness — before telling his own life story in Hou’s The Puppetmaster. This doc explores Chen’s estrangement from his father (which parallels Li’s with his own; both men were given their mothers’ surnames and treated harshly by their fathers), but more urgent is budaixi and the difficulties it faces in the modern world.
Chen tries teaching his demanding techniques to his students who, unlike his own generation, have lives outside the theatre and are never beaten for their failures (even his best student has, he says, mastered only about 60% of what he knows). Yet Chen desperately wants to pass on what he can before he, and his art form, die, going so far as to interrupt the end credits of this film with yet another technical demonstration. After all, an artist, like a parent, works to share what they have learned in their life, hoping against hope that something of them will survive long after they’re gone.
Published as part of CineCina Film Festival 2019.