Tag Archives: First Impressions

Hou Hsiao-hsien 6: A Summer at Grandpa’s (1983)



We delve further into the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. We discuss the narrative structure, how various plots unfold and deepen what seems initially a light story where not much seems to happen. We discuss the continuing interest in differences between the country and the city, the use of trains, how the kids develop an understanding of the adult world by what happens on the margins of the story, and how the story itself is told in long takes, in the middle plane of the frame, with elegant compositions that reframe our view through character placement and movement. We discuss the context of production, the connection with Hong Kong, the limitations of government policy, how little film filmmakers were allowed to use, and how this affected the films’ aesthetic. We also discuss the improvisational style of acting and the performances Hou manages to extract from the children, who are wonderful. We talk of how he uses corridors and stairs to create depth, how light and oblique angles create the feeling of a child hearing things they might not be understanding. We also discuss Hou’s use of empty space (which is what most likely lead to comparisons with Ozu). We end with a discussion of the music, very different this time, and composed by Edward Yang, who also plays the father in the film, appearing briefly at the beginning and the end….oh and the continuing use of toilet gags.

The podcast can be listened to here;

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


Richard Layne found the following links which you might find useful:


  • An interview with Hou where he discusses plot

The scenes without humans video Richard mentions in the podcast:

A good review (and another source for the story about improvisation starting with Green Green Grass) http://www.reverseshot.org/archive/entry/450/summer_grandpas

Article on the early films and this trilogy, source for my comment on this being based on the writer’s childhood https://cine-scope.com/2018/02/19/masters-of-modern-world-cinema-hou-hsiao-hsien-part-1/

On sound recording …. “A City of Sadness was the first feature-length movie made in Taiwan to use sound recorded throughout filming instead of relying on the dubbing of actors’ voices and the addition of sound effects in postproduction. ” https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=20,29,35,45&post=25014

This is probably more for the Boys from Fengkuei blog – an interesting article on the early films that were on Mubi. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2016/06/06/hou-hsiao-hsien-film-culture-finally-comes-through/


Jose’s Bibliography on Hou:

Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19


Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14


Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

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

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)


Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

The trailer José made for the podcast may be seen here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 100th Anniversary Extra – Eavesdropping on Ourselves

With 99 podcasts under our belt at time of recording, we take the opportunity to look back and reflect. At Eavesdropping at the Movies we try to speak honestly about what we see and don’t attach too much of a formula to our discussions. Our philosophy – yes, philosophy! – is to try to see films as unmolested by hype and expectation as we can, and to consider questions of aesthetics and individual experience as well as the likes of plot and performance.

So what do feel we’ve done well, what have we done badly or too little of? And are there films that, with hindsight – given that the podcast records our first impressions, by and large – we’d reevaluate now?

A slightly self-indulgent but hopefully frank look at a podcast we’re ultimately very proud of but has room to improve. Happy 100th anniversary!

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.