Chu Tien-Wen 1956-
CHU TIEN-WEN 1956-
PERSONAL: Born 1956, in Taipei, Taiwan. Education: Graduated from Tamkang University, 1978.
CAREER: Novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter.
AWARDS, HONORS: China Times Award for fiction, 1994, for Notes of a Desolate Man; Golden Horse Award, Golden Horse Film Festival, 1995, for Haonan Haonu.
Chuan shuo (short stories; title means "Legends"), San san shu fang (Taipei, Taiwan), 1983.
Xiao Bi dig u shi (essays), San san shu fang (Taipei, Taiwan), 1983.
Zui xiang nian di ji jie (short stories; title means "The Most Missed Season"), San san shu fang (Taipei, Taiwan), 1984.
(With Murong Xi) San wen ji duan pian (essays), two volumes, Hao jiao chu ban she (Taipei, Taiwan), 1985.
(With Zhu Tianxin and Zhu Tianyi zhu) San zi mei, Huang guan chu ban she (Taipei, Taiwan), 1985.
(With Lin Yaode) Fei xiang meng huan di guo du (essays), Zhu you xuan chu ban you xian gong si (Taipei, Taiwan), 1992.
Hua yi qian shen (short stories; title means "Flower Remembers Her Previous Lives"), Mai tian (Taipei, Taiwan), 1996.
Tong nian wang shi dian ying zhuan ji, Zhong yang dian ying gong si (Taipei, Taiwan), 1985, released as The Time to Live and the Time to Die, 1985.
Bei qing chengshi, San san shu fant (Taipei, Taiwan), 1989, released as A City of Sadness, 1989.
Hai shang hua (based on the novel by Han Ziyun), Shochiku, 1998 released as Flowers of Shanghai, Winstar Films, 1998.
Qianxi manbo, released as Millenium Mambo, Palm Pictures, 2001.
Also author of screenplays Fengkuei-lai-te jen (released as The Boys from Fengkuei), 1983; Hsiao pi te ku shih (released as Growing Up), 1983; Dongdong de jiaqi (released as A Summer at Grandpa's), 1984; Qingmei zhuma (released as Taipei Story), 1985; Lianlian fengchen (released as Dust in the Wind), 1986; Niluohe nuer (released as Daughter of the Nile), 1987; Hsimeng jensheng (released as The Puppetmaster), 1993; Haonan Haonu (title means "Good Men, Good Women"), 1995; Nanguo zaijan, nanguo (released as Goodbye South, Goodbye), 1996; and Kôhî jikô, (released as Café Lumière), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Chu Tien-wen "is a current star in contemporary Chinese fiction from Taiwan, her prose associated with decadent and fin-de-siècle syndromes by her book titles, themes, and a style that appeals to all the senses," observed Jeffrey C. Kinkley in World Literature Today. A prolific screenwriter, Chu has often collaborated with acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsaio-hsien on such films as Good Men, Good Women and Flowers of Shanghai. Chu's 1994 novel Notes of a Desolate Man, for which she received the China Times award for fiction, was published in English translation in 1999.
In 1983, Chu produced her first screenplay for Hou with Fengkuei-lai-te jen (The Boys from Fengkuei), the story of four young friends who migrate from a rural community to the city. Bei qing chengshi (A City of Sadness), the first film in Hou's trilogy on Taiwanese history, looks at the turbulent years of Taiwan's secession from China through the eyes of one family, while Hsimeng jensheng (The Puppetmaster) chronicles the Japanese occupation of Taiwan through the eyes of an elderly puppeteer.
Haonan Haonu (Good Men, Good Women), the final work in the trilogy, "depicts Taiwan in an even more complex way, blending history with fiction, and juxtaposing the present with recent memories," observed New York Times reviewer Caryn James. In the film, Liang Ching, an actress who has landed the lead role in an epic historical drama, is haunted by her former relationship with a small-time gangster. As her emotional state deteriorates, Liang begins to identify with the character she is portraying. James called Good Men, Good Women "a rigorous work of art whose mysteries are worth unraveling."
The 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai is set entirely in the brothels of the British sector of Shanghai during the late nineteenth century. "It's a world of elaborately codified behavior, one where men truly hold all the cards," noted Jay Carr in the Boston Globe. "And yet it's the women, seemingly powerless in every respect save their pragmatic grasp of sexual politics, who … almost always occupy the center of each room." The film concerns the uneasy relationship between Crimson, a prostitute, and her longtime patron Wang Liansheng, a privileged civil servant. Wang has recently taken up with Jasmin, throwing Crimson's life into financial uncertainty.
Describing Flowers of Shanghai as a "disciplined evocation of a lost world," London Guardian critic Richard Williams also noted that in Chu's screenplay "the scenes between Wang and Crimson convey a touching modernity," and Carr observed that the characters' "shared pain represents a breakthrough to something more dignified."
Chu's novel Notes of a Desolate Man is "a poetic, philosophical account of a friendship between two gay men," according to a critic in Publishers Weekly. The work concerns Xiao Shao, a melancholy, aging intellectual in Taipei who has recently lost his longtime friend, Ah Yao, to AIDS. Xiao attempts to cope with his grief through writing; he records his thoughts in diary form, reflecting on such varied topics as philosophy, religion, and the ephemera of pop culture.
Kinley noted that, in this novel, "Chu sets herself the difficult task of writing as a male homosexual; the entire text is in his voice, a stream of consciousness with flashbacks and seesaw temporal interpolations." Xiao also ponders his own obsolescence; at age forty, he clings to his lover of seven years, Yongie, despite his dissatisfaction with the relationship. In the words of Booklist critic Ray Olson, "That desperation is part of [Xiao's] sense of deracination: homosexuals have no homeland, he says, and implicatively, only one another to anchor their lives."
"That Taiwan is under permanent siege, threatened by a larger mass, mainland China, is an obvious but essential metaphor in Chu's novel of gay men facing the truth about their mortality," commented Peter Kurth in the New York Times Book Review. "Living on borrowed time and borrowed culture, caught between the ersatz pleasures of the West and the call of historical destiny, Taiwan itself, in Chu's hands, becomes a mirror of the gay condition, yearning for acceptance while insisting on the right way to behave however it wants." Kurth added, "Notes of a Desolate Man is a novel of questions and imponderables, not so much a cry of pain as the lively, sharp-witted record of it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1999, Ray Olson, review of Notes of a Desolate Man, p. 1785.
Books in Canada, October, 1999, Fadi Abou-Rihan, review of Notes of a Desolate Man.
Boston Globe, April 7, 2000, Jay Carr, "Hou's Hypnotic, Heartfelt Flowers of Shanghai," p. D4.
Chicago Tribune, April 16, 2004, Michael Wilmington, "Mambo a Raw Film Poem about the Pain of Desire," p. 3.
Guardian (London, England), May 21, 1988, Richard Williams, "Scenes from a Lost World," review of Flowers of Shanghai, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2004, Manohla Dargis, "Woman Held Captive in Mambo," p. E6.
New York Times, October 7, 1995, Caryn James, "A Complex Taiwan Tale Needs a Key," review of Good Men, Good Women, p. A12; October 7, 1998, Lawrence van Gelder, "Discreetly Veiled Brothels of Old Shanghai," review of Flowers of Shanghai, p. E5.
New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1999, Peter Kurth, "This Man Is an Island," review of Notes of a Desolate Man, pp. 12-13.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1999, review of Notes of a Desolate Man, p. 66.
World Literature Today, winter, 2000, Jeffrey C. Kinkley, review of Notes of a Desolate Man, p. 234.
Sinorama Online, http://www.sinorama.com.tw/en/ (December, 2000), Chang Chiung-fang, "The Writers Speak."