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Locarno fetes Hou Hsiao Hsien

Fest to honor director with Leopard

Locarno will bestow its 2007 Leopard of Honor on Hou Hsiao Hsien, a key member of the Taiwanese New Wave and a helmer with perhaps more critical accolades — he’s competed for Cannes’ Palme d’Or six times — than popularity awards.

Auds in the know, however, celebrate this filmmaker of unparalleled sensitivity who can boast of several genuine masterpieces for his 60 years.

Red-carpet treatment in the Piazza Maggiore awaits his first non-Chinese pic, “Flight of the Red Balloon,” which unspooled in Cannes this year.

For a director best known as a subtle commentator on the changing nature of Taiwan and China, “Flight” came as a surprise (it was commissioned by Paris’ Musee d’Orsay), but film critics were quick to point out that he stayed true to themes close to his heart, including alienation and emotional survival in cities that break down ties of identity. While Hou is reasonably called a minimalist, his rigorous and ravishing compositions are cold only when he wants them to be, building up to emotional climaxes that may look restrained but stir multiple waves of poignancy.

Next up for Hou is a return to China, with a feature set during the Golden Age between 600 and 700 A.D. The presence of muse Shu Qi has been announced, though pic remains in pre-production.

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