This essay is a study of Chen Guofu and Cai Mingliang, two prominent Taiwan directors whose work in the 1980s helped shape the Second New Wave movement. More recently, Chen's 1998 The Personals and Cai's 2002 What Time Is It There? broke new ground by developing controlled realist styles into an aesthetics of “disillusioned cinema”: a postmodern urban genre that simultaneously derides personal fantasies of sexual love and political fantasies of nation building. Both films use the formulas of romance to highlight the illusions and alienations of contemporary love, of individual pleasures disintegrating communal bonds. On a more symbolic level, they banish male authority into the netherworld and deconstruct patriarchal structures, some of which can be associated with the oppression of “first-world” cultural imperialism. Such thematic and allegorical topics are presented through a variety of styles—including play-within-the-play, repetitions of plot and motif, and symbolic mise-en-scène—with Cai, in particular, testing the possibilities of antinarrative. Both directors also use a gendered filmic language to illustrate Taiwan's “third-world” deconstruction of the classical Hollywood narrative and to echo the crises of a new democracy.

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