Cinema and Media Studies Edward Yang
Paul Fung
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0376


Edward Yang (楊德昌) (b. 6 November 1947 – d. 29 June 2007), a key figure in the Taiwanese New Wave in the 1980s, was born in Shanghai, China, in 1947. He emigrated to Taiwan in 1949 with his family after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. During his childhood, Yang was exposed to films by Federico Fellini and Robert Bresson. After his undergraduate study in electrical engineering in Taiwan, he pursued his postgraduate study on the same subject at the University of Florida. He worked for a few years at the Center for Informatics Research at the same university. He studied briefly at the University of Southern California film school and applied to Harvard’s architecture school. He did not complete any of these programs and ended up working on microcomputers and defense software in Seattle. Yang watched Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) in a cinema in Seattle. He had an epiphany and decided that he should become a film director. Yang would go on to produce some of the most influential films in world cinema: Taipei Story (青梅竹馬) (1985) The Terrorizers (恐怖分子) (1986), A Bridger Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件) (1991), A Confucian Confusion (獨立時代) (1994), Mahjong (麻將) (1996) and Yi Yi (一一) (2000). It was for the last film that Yang won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. Yang died of colon cancer in Beverly Hills at the age of fifty-nine. Yang worked with several notable artists in his relatively short career, including the actress Sylvia Cheng, the cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the film director Hou Hsiao-hsien, the playwright and theater director Stan Lai, the singer Tsai Chin, and the screenwriter Wu Nien-jen.

General Overviews

The feature films of Edward Yang influenced many critical debates in film studies and cultural studies. The Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson has a long discussion of The Terrorizers in his book Jameson 1992 (cited under Jameson’s “Remapping of Taipei” and Receptions). His analysis has triggered heated debates from critics. Yeh and Davis 2005 offers the most comprehensive and accessible study of Yang’s cinema with a focus on his epic film, A Brighter Summer Day. Bordwell 2016, written by an influential film theorist, offers a detailed analysis of Yang’s cinematography. Bordwell is one of the few critics who offers an in-depth formal analysis of Yang’s camera. Most of the critics have focused on the social and political dimensions of his films. For a general understanding of Yang’s filmography, one should consult Anderson 2005, a short book on the director. It is ideal for undergraduate students who are first introduced to Yang’s work. For readers who want to approach Yang’s relations to other acclaimed directors and the global market, one should consult Wilson 2014, a book on modern Taiwanese cinema. Chang 2019 positions Yang as a transnational director who skillfully represents the hybridized culture in the city space of Taipei. This book is representative of many other critical debates on modernization in Yang’s cinema. Li 2017 positions Yang’s work in the context of commercialization in modern Taipei, examining the transformation of human emotions in an increasingly fragmentary society. For scholarship published in Chinese, one should start with Huang 1995, a comprehensive study of Yang’s films until 1994. Huang offers informed analyses of early films such as In Our Time (光陰的故事) (1982) and That Day, on the Beach (海灘的一天) (1983). Yang has also been reexamined in connection to some of the key Western thinkers in the 20th century, including Georg Simmel, Anthony Giddens, Henri Lefebvre Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard (Li 2004, cited under Urbanization and Its Discontents; and Tweedie 2013, cited under Object, Sound, and Technology).

  • Anderson, John. Edward Yang. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

    A short book written by an American film critic. The only English book-length study of Yang available. Suitable for general readers who first encounter the films of Edward Yang.

  • Bordwell, David. “A Brighter Summer Day: Yang and His Gangs.” 2016.

    The internationally acclaimed film theorist focuses on the cinematography of Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, with continual references to Hou Hsiao-hsien, another pathbreaking Taiwanese filmmaker in the 1980s. Also briefly introduces Yang’s other feature films.

  • Chang, Ivy I-chu. “The Visible and the Invisible: Edward Yang’s Taipei Trilogy.” In Taiwan Cinema, Memory, and Modernity. By Ivy I-chu Chang, 19–42. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-3567-9_2

    A study of Yang’s Taipei trilogy in relation to the phenomenon of transnational cinema. The three films—A Confucian Confusion, Mahjong and Yi Yi are examined with continual reference to parodic techniques such as frame-within-the-frame, off-screen voice, and dual sound.

  • Frodon, Jean-Michel. Yang de chang de dian ying shi jie (楊德昌的電影世界). Translated by Yang Haidi and Feng Shounong. Beijing: Shang wu yin shu guan, 2012.

    Provides an alternative approach in rexamining Yang’s cinema with reference to the director’s notebooks, illustrations and essays. The book, translated from French, also contains important interviews with reputable directors including Jia Zhang-ke, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Martin Scorsese, and Olivier Assayas.

  • Huang, Jian-ye 黃建業. Yang de chang dian ying yan jiu: tai wan xin dian ying de zhi xing si bian jia (楊德昌電影研究: 台灣新電影的知性思辨家). Taipei: Yuanliu, 1995.

    An original and popular book on Yang’s cinema written in Chinese. Includes an invaluable interview with the director focusing on his childhood and adolescence. The second part of the interview offers an in-depth discussion of each of Yang’s films before 1995. See pp. 187–244.

  • Li, David Leiwei. “The Deregulation of Affect in Hou Hsiao-hsien and Yang De-chang.” In Economy, Emotion, and Ethics in Chinese Cinema: Globalization on Speed. By David Leiwei Li, 129–166. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.

    Reflects on the disintegration of human emotions under the impact of an achievement society. The consequences of global capitalism are rapid industrialization and individualization, urbanization and embourgeoisement, marketization and commodification.

  • Wilson, Flannery. “Taiwanese-Italian Conjugations: The Fractured Storytelling of Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up.” In New Taiwanese Cinema in Focus: Moving Within and Beyond the Frame. By Flannery Wilson, 47–75. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780748682027-006

    A comparative study on Yang and other key figures in world cinema.

  • Yeh, Emilie Yueh-yu, and Darrell W. Davis. “Navigating the House of Yang.” In Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island. By Yueh-yu Yeh and Darrell W. Davis, 91–132. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    The most comprehensive book-length study of New Taiwanese Cinema. Uses the concept of tunnel vision to define the cinematography in A Brighter Summer Day.

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