19 April 2004 | howard.schumann
A work of nostalgia and remembrance
Searching for a specifically Chinese approach to filmmaking, Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Boys From Fengkuei was the first film in what has become the traditional Hou style, extended long takes and a fixed-camera angle that heightens the sense of real time. The film depicts the social and economic changes taking place in postwar Taiwan as reflected in the lives of ordinary working class teenagers. After finishing school, the friends have little to do but spend time getting into trouble with the police. They play crude practical jokes, gamble, drink, fight, and chase girls as they wait for compulsory military service. The most introspective of the group, Ah-Ching lives in two worlds, the dissonant world of his buddies and the traditional culture that comes back to him in flashes of memory of his father when he was a young boy.
Constantly berated by his mother for his lack of ambition, Ah-Ching and two friends leave their traditional island home in Penghu to look for work in the Southern city of Kaohsiung. On the surface, the boys are street-wise, but beneath their swagger, their naivete is apparent when they are conned into paying to see non-existent porn movies on the 11th floor of a high-rise building. Ah-Ching's sister offers the boys an apartment and they find jobs in a local factory but an infatuation with a hoodlum's girl friend leaves Ah-Ching more alone than when he came. The only film of Hou to use Western classical music as a background, The Boys From Fengkuei is a work of nostalgia and remembrance, touching on love, respect for tradition, and the joy and pain of growing up.