I'm fortunate enough that the UW Cinematheque has supplemented it's semester long Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective with another, five film retro covering Hou Hsiao-hsien's early carreer (sadly, I won't be able to see two of the films, his first feature Cute Girl
, and the later Daughter of the Nile
; on Thursday, the film 1983 film The Boys From Fengkuei
plays, so I will be able to see that). The Hou retro began on Thursday with A Summer At Grandpa's
(1984) and The Green, Green Grass of Home
A Summer At Grandpa's
, for being an older film, is somewhat reflective of Hou's later, mature works, even if it doesn't quite match the splendor of City of Sadness
, The Puppetmaster
, and The Flowers of Shanghai
, lacking the pervasive sense of melancholy (though it exists in A Summer At Grandpa's
and concern with Taiwanese history and identity, it is still a very strong film, a multi-generational portrait of a family in a small, provincial town. The two main characters, the adolescent boy Tung-Tung and his little sister Ting-Ting are sent to their Grandpa's house (he's a local doctor) while their mother convalesces in a Taipei hospital. This was the film where Hou Hsiao-hsien developed his trademark long-take, static camera style, capturing the stillness and quiet of the sleepy provincial town. Hou Hsiao-hsien also garners many, many impressive, naturalistic performances, not only from his adult actors, but the legion of child actors who inhabit the story. The film slowly develops it's multiple, familial plot-lines over the course of the movie; it's is perfectly paced, wonderfully acted, precisely directed, comic, warm, sad, and even affectionate. A wonderful movie.
If Chinese has a word for "whitebread," it would aptly describe The Green, Green Grass of Home
, a rather bland and unoffensive commercial picture from early in Hou Hsiao-hsien's carreer (it's a star vehicle for Taiwanese pop-singer Kenny B, who is not a good actor). Again, it's saving grace is the performances of the child actors (interestingly, all of the children were dubbed by one amazing vocal actor, the film was shot without sync sound), one of whom resembles a Chinese-version of the kid from About a Boy
(though will less pronounced eyesbrows....the eyebrows...I'm still entranced.....); while this short, musical-comedy/ecological parable is OK, and somewhat entertaining, it gains it's main importance from the fact that this is the film where Hou developed his method of directing actors. It's basically worth watching for the curious and Hou Hsiao-hsien completists.
I was elated to learn that Hou Hsiao-hsien is acquiring the video rights to all of his films and is scouring for the best negative materials. In the future, we should be seeing a complete collection of Hou's films on DVD (the two prints that we saw are from an archive in Taipei, and they are very rare, The Green, Green Grass of Home
was in a somewhat poor state, it was shot in Eastman color, and has faded somewhat, causing the telltale pinkish tinge).