Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 3 – The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982)

 

In this podcast, Richard and I discuss how much we both like this film, an early one of Hou’s that we argue continues to be largely dismissed in accounts of his work. Here we admire what we see as his growth as a filmmaker: the increasing use of expressive long-takes, the filming from the inside of trains, the imaginative compositions, the handling of many people in the frame whilst still keeping dramatic focus, the deft control over various narrative threads. We notice that this is the third time in three fllms that we get scatalogical jokes but how now they’re not used as superficial toppers but instead evoke character and feeling as well as laughs. There are songs and there is romance but we discuss how there is also much more than that: a highly skilled and enjoyable work. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

Some of the shots or filmic practices we detected in the film are illustrated below:

THE IMAGINATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE FRAMINGS AND COMPOSITIONS:

Interesting, never quite head-on and always at a slight angle:

The centering of the children in their environment:

The elegant use of foregrounds in relation to backgrounds, carefully framed so as to enable us to see

A still from the magnificent shot where the child starts at the top of the stair on the bottom right of the frame, he disappears from view…and then rejoins the rest of the schoolchildren on the bottom left of the frame.

THE HANDLING OF CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITHIN THE FRAME:

…always attentive to the relationship between foreground and background but also elegantly visualised such as below;

in this riverside frolic all of the protagonists, each with their own particular problem is on view, as is their relationship to each other:

note again the relationship between foreground and background here: the children are bearing witness:

note here he door ajar on the left hand of the frame, brining the outside in (as well as the reverse)

The poetic letter to mom:

Kaosiung Station is appearing in many of his films, the destination point to the city from the country:

the emphasis on the green and the rural:

 

and lastly, the brilliant last shots:

The following quotes, cited in the podcast, are from:

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

“Hou Hsiao-Hsien was born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947.He and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan in the following year. Houis a waishengren and his family is Hakka, the peripatetic Chinese minority whowere often persecuted by the Han majority in Taiwan before 1895. Hou, whose father died when he was young, grew up in southern Taiwan where, without a father,he wandered outside more than was the norm for children of the time. These self-guided wanderings, at a young age, brought him into contact with many of the realities of everyday life, especially the underground gangs, which proved to be definitive influences on his films.

In 1973, Hou started as a continuity person, but soon became an assistant director, and finally a screenwriter, first writing three works with his closest associate during the 1970s, the director Lai Cheng-ying. In Taiwan, directors rarely did the actual directing; it was the assistant directors who actually faced the day-to-day problems on the set, and they were in charge of keeping film stock use to a bare minimum. Hou is listed as the assistant director for at least 11 films in the 1970s, and that experience drove home for him the limitations of current filmmaking practices. All of these limiting practices – functional editing, functional lighting, compositional gimmicks, minimal shooting ratios, start and stop performance and so on – Hou would one day reject, arguing that these stifled creativity and the freedom of art, although for years

Hou would bear some responsibility for perpetuating these practices (it was his
livelihood after all). Yet as strange as it may seem, his experience with these practices would have a profound and lasting impact on him even after he would no longer rely on them in his work. He would learn many things from this largely negative experience, but two invaluable lessons stand out: the importance of lighting and the importance of performance, two areas today that form the cornerstones of his own aesthetic (see Udden 45).

1983 was a turning point for Hou, when The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) (also known as All the Youthful Days) won the “Best Film Award” in the Festival of the Three Continents. This is Hou’s beginning in the making of new films, as he said – after The Boys from Fengkuei, “I re-think film and consider it is another language” (8). Since then, he abandoned the pattern of early commercial films, and began a kind of move which was personally-oriented, using the narrative of daily life as the main language for his work. Hou’s process of new cinema can be divided into two stages occurring before and after “A City of Sadness” (1989). There are five films before 1989 – The Boys rom Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985), Dust in the Wind (1986) and Daughter of the Nile (1987) While thestories are different, they have an internal consistency all about the growing experiences and memories of youth, as well as the collision between rural and urban life”.

 

The trailer for the podcast should evoke the flavour of the film:

Richard has provided links you might also find interesting and useful:

trailer for a Taiwanese TV showing of the film:

Full version of the Coca Cola song:

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