TWO EARLY FILMS BY TAIWAN’S GREAT HOU HSIAO-HSIEN
Lovable You 1980 (with Kenny Bee and Feng Fei-fei)
The Green, Green Grass of Home 1983 (with Kenny Bee)
I enjoyed Green much more than Lovable and the second half of it much more than the first. These romantic comedies are both set in rural villages. John Ewing’s notes for his Cinematheque showings comment that “Each of the…films delineates a conflict between the city and the sticks…” Both of them have environmental concerns as elements of the plo. In Lovable You government surveyors are planning a road right through a village house. In Green teachers and students are trying to protect a stream and its fish. In both comedies there are too many noisy children, both of them every bit as obnoxious as those infamous Hollywood ones of the 30s, 40 an 50s and the later tv ones. At least these Chinese kids are not the know-it-alls, infinitely smarter than all adults, in which American entertainment specializes. Both pictures feature embarrassing bathroom humor.
In Lovable You the two famous Chinese pop singers are charming; but given the obvious and routine script, the charms wear thin before movie’s end. The late Feng is pretty, and I cannot judge her singing. But she lacks the presence of Kenny Bee, and the director sometimes leaves her on too long when some shrewder cutting might have prevented expressiveness from turning to mugging
In The Green, Green Grass of Home Kenny Bee seems ideally cast, appears to be having a good time, and keeps the film interesting.
John Ewing also writes: “Hou’s love of the Taiwanese countryside is easily seen in this commercial confection [Lovable You] in color and scope.” I find it difficult to discover whether the original color or the available print is responsible for this countryside’s dull green. The pollution and open burning do not help.
My overall impression watching, in particular, Lovable You is that there is little except their facial features to mark these characters as Chinese. Their clothes, their homes, their interests, their manners — They could be Americans. Only when the story line reaches matchmaking and marriage does a Chinese flavor enter the picture. (This plot matter plays a part in The Green, Green Grass of Home as well.)
I feel safe in writing that neither of these films gives any hint of the greatness to come.
IF YOU ARE IN NORTHEAST OHIO — John Ewing is showing all 17 of Hou’s oeuvre in a divided series, some at the Cleveland Cinematheque, some at the Cleveland Museum of Art. You can find dates and times online: http://www.cia.edu/cinematheque and http://www.clevelandart.org
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MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE
In his introduction to his new translation of Homer’s Odyssey Barry B. Powell writes: “Homer is on the side of the old order, of older men of experience with a proper contempt for those not of their class. They make up his audience, for in Homer’s story about the return of Odysseus the older generation of Big Men is triumphant. In the end Odysseus kills every one of the presumptuous and arrogant youngsters who allow their amorous inclinations and political ambitions to justify rude behavior. One might contrast modern film entertainment, where the audience is between eighteen and thirty-six years old: The common plot shows the young as vigorous and in the grip of honest love, while their middle-aged parents, libidinous and corrupt, oppose them ; in the end, the young triumph over the old. Entertainers in every age know their audience.” (Oxford University Press, 2014.)
NEXT POST FRIDAY MAY 22
See you at the movies,