A City of Sadness revisits a painful episode in recent Taiwanese history, creating an elliptical and impressionistic picture of Chiang Kai-shek's takeover of the island after the defeat of his Kuomintang army by Mao Zedong. Taiwan's politics and the suffering of her inhabitants are invoked by Hou in the story of an extended family of four brothers. The first Taiwanese film shot in direct sound, A City of Sadness echoes the forgotten voices of ordinary people facing political repression.

Winner of the Golden Lion in Venice in 1989, A City of Sadness introduced Western audiences to the richness of New Taiwanese Cinema. Its director, Hou Hsiao-hsien is now recognised as one of the most profoundly original auteurs in contemporary cinema.