The Arch

The first internationally-acclaimed Chinese film (filmed in Taiwan), The Arch (1969) was the first feature of the young California-trained woman filmmaker Shu Shuen. (Note that Les Blank was an editor on the film.) The story, set in seventeenth-century (Ming Dynasty) south China, is of a young widow who suppresses her sexuality out of a sense of propriety and loyalty to a townspeople who have erected an arch to honor her virtue. A film whose style incorporates its theme, a complex interaction between passion and tradition, The Arch was received in the West as “a model of subtle art,” displaying in the Chinese way “the splendour of authentic emotions.” Henry Miller called it “medicine” for the West: “One leaves the theatre feeling grateful, feeling assuaged, feeling that there is truly such a thing as human brotherhood and sisterhood, that passion stems from the soul and not the guts - in short, that there is hope for a better, righter, cleaner world.” Such comments, however, bear an ironic relationship to those made by the filmmaker: “Whatever the interpretation may be, the story is about a woman tormented and the effect of her inner conflicts upon the other characters.... I see in Madam Tung the helplessness of all of us. She exemplifies the ludicrousness of mankind, the futility of morality, the futility of intelligence, the futility of knowledge and of ethics - the fact that we cannot escape anguish and torment.... The ludicrousness that we are forever forced to choose between insidious choices, significant to us because of...the vulnerability of our feelings...and our lack of cosmic sense.... So what is there to offer as a comfort but tolerance...and compassion for each other's pain?” (J.B.)

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