Saturday, March 17, 2018

Blu-ray debut for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 30-year-old semi-classic, DAUGHTER OF THE NILE

TrustMovies came fairly late to the oeuvre of Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien. It wasn't until Café Lumière (2003) that I fully appreciated a Hou movie. Since then, I've come to like his work more and more, and now, the opportunity to see one of his earlier films -- DAUGHTER OF THE NILE, from 1987 --  seemed some-thing too good to pass up.

It is, though it is not, I think, quite up to the level of some of his later work. The movie's plot does clunk a bit (one shoot-out duly follows another and another), and Mr. Hou, shown at right, has certainly grown more subtle and graceful in his story-telling over the years. Here fact, fantasy, memory and odd objects -- from a red Walkman to a playful puppy all merge as we enter the life of a young woman and her very problemed family in the Taiwan of 30 years ago where local Chinese eateries are suddenly co-existing with a new KFC. What is most refreshing about the film is how little it seems to have dated (except for certain references to Madonna and/or the size of the early cell phones). In terms of both theme and human behavior, it remains timely.

Our heroine, Lin (above, played by Yang Lin), is constantly contending with that off-track family: a brother (two photos below) who seems only attracted to the criminal life, a lazy younger sister (below), an absentee dad (maybe he simply works too hard and too long), and a grandfather with a minor gambling problem (mom, it seems, has been dead for awhile now).

Little wonder our girl's mind often wanders into reveries about pharaohs and Egyptian princesses, hence the movie's title. Along the way, we visit Lin's classroom and watch a teacher trying so hard to communicate to his students some necessary lesson on morality and philosophy -- to little avail, of course.

Mr. Hou's gorgeous visuals are on full display here, and his gift for verbal description, followed by a single shot that encapsulates all that's been said comes to the fore, as well -- as when a young woman is said to have married for money to a man who is connected to the criminal Triads. When we see her face, from a discreet distance, everything we've heard is brought home in one quiet, breathtaking moment.

Like grand-pa/like grandson comes home to roost, as do a number of fart jokes (Mr. Hou was clearly ahead of his time in regard to the latter). Mostly, though, we get a good look at Taiwan, inside-out and from the ground up. Forget Babylon: this was already, 30 years ago, a sad, desolate, running-on-empty society.

Among the excellent Bonus Features on the new Blu-ray disc are a fine interview with Tony Rayns regarding Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Daughter of the Nile, and a commentary track by Richard Suchenski. The Blu-ray transfer here is often magnificent (there's a scene around a bonfire at the beach that's a veritable feast for the eyes).

From the Cohen Film Collection and running 93 minutes, the movie will hit the street this coming Tuesday, March 20, on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms -- for purchase and/or rental.

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