One of the great things about the workthat boutique labels are doing with film is seeing the hidden gems that are not only being unleashed but also restored to their original brilliance. One such hidden gem is the Taiwanese melodrama Execution in Autumn, directed by Lee Hsing and with a new HD restoration brought to us by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema collection.
As Execution in Autumn begins we’re introduced to our central character, Pei Gang (Ou Wei), as he’s on the run. As he’s captured, we learn he’s trying to escape from the authorities because he’s killed three people, including a pregnant woman. He’s dragged into prison to await trial but is subsequently found by his rich grandmother who vows to get him out as he is the last of the Pei bloodline. But while she tries to bribe everyone she can, she soon realises that the only way she can make the line endure is for Gang to have a child with Lian (Tang Pao-yun), an orphan who grandma had taken in to raise within the family.
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Execution in Autumn is a powerful film about redemption, family, and sacrifice, anchored by a great performance by Ou Wei. The character of Gang is a fascinating one and he plays it to the hilt, helping usher in a beautiful transformative arc perfectly executed by screenwriter Chang Yung-hsiang, who also wrote one of Hsing’s previously acclaimed pictures, 1965’s Beautiful Duckling. What’s brilliant is that as soon as we meet Gang, we hate him. He’s constantly throwing tantrums and trying to escape and acting like a spoiled brat, which he is – his parents died when he was young and his grandmother has been caring for him ever since.
It’s as we meet grandma (the wonderful Fu Bihui) that we start to realise why Gang is how he is, as she has been doting on him to the point where she is a bully to other families, and she uses her riches to get what she wants. When she meets with a member of the jury that will decide her grandson’s fate, she bribes him with priceless jewels and gives money to a relative to discuss the matter further with a judge. None of this comes to fruition of course; the relative just takes her money and lies, while the juror’s hands are tied by Gang’s refusal to deny that he intended to kill the woman he murdered.
The brutality that comes from Gang and the corruption of his family is counteracted by the tenderness of Lian, who chooses to be the one to marry him and help the family line live on. Gang initially rejects her and the very idea of the plan but eventually relents after being transfixed by her love for him and her persistence. What’s great is not that he’s a whole new man or anything like that, but he still remains who is with new perspectives, allowing for the complexity of relationships without making everything black and white.
Execution in Autumn is set in a wonderfully melodramatic style and is beautifully directed by Li Hsing. Huge credit for the mood of the film must also go to cinematographer Cheng-ying Lai and art director Chih-Liang Chou as the look of the film is exquisite, especially during the snowbound scenes which have such a wonderfully melancholic feel. Then there’s the powerful and emotional score by Ichirô Saitô; it’s just incredible.
According to Eureka’s press notes, this is the first time the film has ever been released on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, coming from a 2K restoration that is presumably the 2020 restoration by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. It’s a wonderful restoration; the sources used are clearly not in the greatest of shape but it matters not. It’s wonderful to see the film looking and sounding magnificent.
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Surprisingly, Eureka hasn’t gone crazy with bonus features, with an interview and an example of the restoration, although the former is worth the lack of others. It’s a video interview with Asian film expert Tony Rayns and he doesn’t just delve into the film but also the cinema of Taiwan itself and the context in which Hsing made his pictures. It’s fascinating stuff and is accompanied by a booklet which includes an essay on the film by Philip Kemp.
Execution in Autumn is a wonderful film, rich in character and theme. The restoration has the film looking beautiful, and the included interview is substantial and satisfying. Highly recommended.
Execution in Autumn is out on Blu-ray on 20th June from Eureka Entertainment.