The Puppetmaster

  • Film
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This hallucinatory biopic covers the first 36 years of Li Tianlu's life story. The film shows a life buffeted every which way by family, work and politics (Taiwan was a Japanese colony for the whole period shown here, and things got rough in the war years), but Li survived each chapter of accidents by turning himself into a true folk-artist, retelling myths and legends on his puppet theatre stage. Li appears several times as a funny and very laid-back raconteur, but mostly we see reconstructed episodes from his memoirs. The film covers much ground, from the collapse of feudal society to the defeat of the Japanese, but the overall pace is slow and contemplative, and the focus is deliberately narrow. Hou Xiaoxian has been moving towards this storytelling style for years, and it's probably too minimalist to make new converts. But long-term admirers (and dope heads) will come out of the film with a vivid sense of Chinese folk-culture and an agreeably blurred vision of the relations between an individual and his society.

Release details

Duration: 141 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Hou Xiaoxian
Screenwriter: Wu Nien-Jen, Zhu Tianwen
Cast: Li Tianlu
Lin Qiang
Chen Kuizhong
Zuo Juwei
Hong Liu
Bai Minghua
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