The Arch

dir. Cecile Tang Shu Shuen

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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The groundbreaking, independently financed debut by the great director Cecile Tang anticipated the coming Hong Kong New Wave by more than a decade.


The incomparably original Cecile Tang, one of the few female filmmakers working in Hong Kong in the sixties and seventies, made two of the most interesting and important films of the era with her debut The Arch and its follow-up China Behind. A profound character study that feels like a hybrid of Kenji Mizoguchi's tales of female sacrifice, the tragic romances of Chinese costume drama and the interruptive techniques of the French New Wave, The Arch focuses on a wealthy widow (Lisa Lu) in the early Qing dynasty on the eve of her crowning achievement, the erection of a triumphal arch in honour of her many good works. When a young and handsome cavalry officer is billeted at her palatial house and soon begins to court both the matriarch and her immature daughter, the widow is forced to choose between her own happiness and her daughter's well-being. Shot in soft, luminous black and white by Satyajit Ray's longtime cinematographer Subrata Mitra, The Arch is "one of the most significant art-house classics in [Hong Kong] film history ... as if Alain Resnais met Henrik Ibsen in seventeenth-century China" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).