Feng Gui Lai De Ren (1983) (aka All The Youthful Days)
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s fourth feature stands in remarkable contrast to the banality of his previous film, The Green, Green Grass of Home (1983), and should probably be considered as the first signs of a master who is to come. Tinged with nostalgia throughout, as the title would imply, All the Youthful Days presents us the lives of a bunch of rowdy youths from the town of Fengkuei, who move to the city looking for work (in a manner very reminiscent of Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996)). Although much more restrained than the director’s previous, a few of the clichés of the genre still remain. But what really sets apart the film from its predecessor is the confidence of its approach and its formal consistency that would become characteristic of the director later on. All the Youthful Days already shows the filmmaker’s need for direct sound, which he would employ a few films later, while the visual component succeeds in capturing the rhythm of life in the city and in the town with its long and drawn-out shots, restrictive framing, use of off-screen space and employment of multiple planes of action. Hou’s camera takes a detached but ever curious gaze towards its subjects as they engage in gang wars, witness the lives of their neighbours, get cheated in the city and lead a life that is as detached from the past as it is from the future. There is much understated pathos to be found in the final passages of the film, a la I Vitelloni (1953), where the friends are forced to come to terms with the fact that they have to break up and move on with their individual lives.
[P.S: As you might have guessed, this is a new column intended to keep this blog a bit more active between reviews (and to appease my guilt of being lazy to put up longer posts). Also, although it won’t exactly take me closer to my dream of writing something about every film I’ve seen, I think it would nevertheless help me jot down my instantaneous response to films I’ve just seen]