March 28–July 2, 2024

Are You Lonesome Tonight? The Films of Edward Yang

The very existence of Yang and his films was like a revelation to me. I imagine it was similar for many other Asian filmmakers of the same generation.”

Hamaguchi Ryusuke

Like writing a very intimate letter to a very good friend.” This is how Edward Yang (1947–2007), the great Taiwanese director and figurehead of its fabled 1980s new wave, described the making of his unexpectedly final feature Yi Yi (2000), for which he won Best Director at Cannes. It’s a simile ready-made for any one of Yang’s films, such is the closeness and sense of in-confidence truths conveyed in his tales of intersecting lives whiplashed into modernity.

Born in Shanghai but raised in Taipei (his parents fled China after the communist takeover in 1949), Yang followed a roundabout route to film. Though passionate about movies and manga, he pursued a parents-approved career in computer engineering. This led him to America where, after a few academic detours, he was lured to Seattle’s booming tech sector. It was here that a creatively stifled Yang rekindled his cinephilia—sparked by a screening of Herzog’s go-for-broke Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)—and an invitation by a former classmate to write a movie script fated his return to Taiwan to become a filmmaker. His directorial contribution to the landmark omnibus In Our Time (1982), a cornerstone of New Taiwanese Cinema, secured his place in the burgeoning movement that he, alongside friend and collaborator Hou Hsiao-hsien, would soon bring to international attention.

Whereas Hou proved himself a master portraitist of rural life, Yang’s forte was the modern city—specifically Taipei. His protagonists—usually young, upwardly mobile, middle-class professionals; sometimes wayward teens and minor criminals—live confusing, contradictory lives cut adrift from the sustenance of their traditional values and swept up in the soullessness and vapidity of a rapidly Westernized culture. His evocation of this rootless, alienated milieu has drawn frequent comparisons to the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, an acknowledged influence.

Though Taipei may be the subject under his incisive social microscope—and Taiwan’s unique social/​political/​historical situation, in the threatening shadow of mainland China, is very much a part of the texture of his films—Yang was a modernist and moralist whose clear-eyed, penetrating vision of contemporary urban life, and the contemporary search for meaning and identity, has universal resonance. His sophisticated narrative style, his complex weaving of seemingly disparate storylines into surprisingly coherent wholes, his intelligence and irony, have earned him widespread recognition as one of the most important artists of the 20th century’s second half.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?” marks The Cinematheque’s first Edward Yang retrospective in 25 years. It follows rapturously greeted exhibitions in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles that were similarly occasioned by recent restorations carried out by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute, sponsor of our program. Borrowing its title from the Elvis-sung ballad waltzing through Yang’s 1991 opus A Brighter Summer Day (itself named after a misheard lyric in the song), this series comprises all seven theatrical features made by the eminent director, including the long unavailable, and now beautifully restored, A Confucian Confusion (1994) and Mahjong (1996).

Opening Night March 28 (Thursday)
7:00 pm – A Confucian Confusion with series introduction by Helena Wu
More Info

A rare opportunity to see the films of an artist who may have more to say about the direction of modern life than any other filmmaker currently working.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

The great Taiwanese filmmaker of modernity.” Olivier Assayas

Edward Yang’s novelistic portraits of Taiwanese society capture the malaise of modern life with melancholy compassion.” John Anderson, Film Comment

The soulful master of Taiwanese cinema.” James Balmont, Another Magazine


The Cinematheque is grateful to Rita Yun (TFAI) for making this complete retrospective of Edward Yang’s theatrical features possible.

Sponsored by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute
TFAI grey

Upcoming Screenings

  • Yi Yi 1
  • Yi Yi
  • aka A One and a Two…)
  • Taiwan2000
  • Edward Yang
  • 173 DCP
  • PG
  • The Films of Edward Yang

List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2024-Mar A Confucian Confusion Edward Yang 1994 Taiwan
2024-Mar A Brighter Summer Day Edward Yang 1991 Taiwan
2024-Mar That Day, on the Beach Edward Yang 1983 Taiwan
2024-Apr Yi Yi Edward Yang 2000 Taiwan
2024-Apr Taipei Story Edward Yang 1985 Taiwan
2024-Apr The Terrorizers Edward Yang 1986 Taiwan
2024-Apr Mahjong Edward Yang 1996 Taiwan