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Inter-Asia Cultural Studies
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The eloquence of the taciturn: an essay on Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Shigehiko Hasumi

Online Publication Date: 01 June 2008

To cite this Article Hasumi, Shigehiko(2008)'The eloquence of the taciturn: an essay on Hou Hsiao-Hsien',Inter-Asia Cultural

Studies,9:2,184 — 194
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In Daughter of the Nile and Goodbye South. the short by the Lumières is black-and-white. shot at the end of the nineteenth century: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and Passage Through a Railway Tunnel. One of the oldest forward-moving shots in the history of film. Pressed right up against the scenery taken by the camera from the driver’s seat. Volume 9. the viewers’ eyes become one with the advancing camera. In A Time to Live. but an automobile cannot be a setting for love. The drivers are all young women. Compared with the thematic negativity that the automobile possess in Hou’s universe. The speeding train passing through tunnels and screeching around the many curves of the tree-draped tracks cannot help but remind one of the exhilarating sense of motion in the film Passage Through a Railway Tunnel at the Front of a Locomotive (Passage d’un tunnel en chemin de fer pris de l’avant de la locomotive. and we experience a breathtaking continuity ISSN 1464–9373 Print/ISSN 1469–8447 Online/08/020184–11 © 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10. a color film set in the verdant mountains of Taiwan. the young woman and her friend in the passing train recognize how valuable they are to each other without saying words. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Dust in the Wind (Lianlian fengchen. such as the two adolescents in Dust in the Wind who show their intimacy with each other without saying words. 1898) taken by the Lumière brothers at the end of the nineteenth century. A Time to Die. taken from many angles. Number 2. symbolize the rich and the motorbike the common people. It consists of a single shot taken from the camera at the head of the locomotive as the train crosses a bridge. When the camera is next to the tracks or on the platform. includes two scenes almost identical to the black-and-white and silent films by the Lumières. As Hou’s mise-en-scène consists of the fixed camera angle with its long takes. and less than a minute long.1080/14649370801965562 . thematic roles of the means of transportation in Taiwanese New Wave The arrival of a train From its very beginning. Goodbye. the motion of the passing trains. it is the means of transportation that brings motion to the film. which appear in his first three romantic comedies. The luxury cars. the viewer can only be impressed with how one characteristic of film. Hou depicts the grandmother sitting next to her grandson at a shop by the train and sipping sweet ice while behind them passes a freight train that emphasizes the anxious solitude of the old woman exiled from her homeland. This taciturnity suggests a certain kind of love that needs no sexual language. 2008 The eloquence of the taciturn: an essay on Hou Hsiao-Hsien Shigehiko HASUMI Dust in the Wind. and glides along a gentle curve up to the platform at the Gare de SaintClair on the outskirts of Lyon. Taylor and Francis Ltd Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 ABSTRACT KEYWORDS: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s mise-en-scène. 1986) draws the viewer into what might be called the archeological rapture of film. A sublime depiction of the sense of powerlessness of both the deaf-mute photographer and his family before a passing train is the scene on the deserted platform in A City of Sadness. silent.Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. hibernating since its earliest days. offers rich and profound significations. In Café Lumière. the situation changes. controlling dramatic elements of each work. the cars offer no protection to men trying to escape. Although this shot is disappointingly brief. passes through a tunnel. When the camera is inside the train. has been reawakened in this shot in Hou’s film. the protagonists are taciturn.

The boy (Wang Ching-wen). Meanwhile. With the words ‘It’s a movie. something that was missing from the Lumières’ silent short. The young couple in Dust in the Wind. Viewers of Dust in the Wind experience a similarly suspenseful continuity. and the quiet strains of a guitar begin to be heard as if in celebration of the relationship between the boy and girl. says something briefly that suggest she regrets having failed a mathematics test. in this respect. The only sound heard is their feet crunching on the gravel. His movie also includes a scene identical to that legendary work by the Lumière brothers. 1897). the girl turns her eyes in the same direction. In any case. That scene appears . ‘It’s just like the Lumière Cinématographe. they exchange barely a word. another technique unknown to the Lumière brothers. they are deeply reassuring to the viewer. Although the only slight distance between the two adolescents shows their intimacy with each other. apparently on their way home from school. A woman from a shop along the track asks them to deliver a heavy bag of white rice to the girl’s mother. and mutters. looks ahead. Or perhaps it is just the ability of any outstanding film to transform. By this point. stand in the aisle with their eyes on their books as they swerve with the motion of the train. we are deeply and miraculously struck by the unremarkable fact that Dust in the Wind is simply and unmistakably a film.’ And what causes that muttering is the archeological rapture of film that fills that opening shot. When the train in Dust in the Wind emerges from the tunnel into the light. replies expressionlessly that he had explained it to her. unexpected shocks into naturalness. as if by magic. Hou’s film is technically much more sophisticated than Passage Through a Railway Tunnel. The time has come to live the real story. The girl (Hsin Chu-fen). the boy heaves the bag onto his back. wearing the white blouse of her school uniform. Perhaps it is the nostalgia that would be felt by anyone who remembers happening upon such an outdoor movie screening in a rural location in East Asia. so much so that one cannot help muttering. The shot changes. The boy and girl get off the train at a small station and begin walking silently along the track. that exists between the two children shows the bonds of friendship and love between them. Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat. this silence. Without a word. the surprising eloquence of the taciturn boy is what makes Hou Hsiao-Hsien an auteur without parallel. It is that feeling of continuous motion that draws together these two films made nine decades apart. and we see in the gathering outdoor darkness a large cloth screen flapping in the wind. ruminating on the voice we have just heard and the image of the white screen fluttering in the dark. The sound of the wind fluttering that white rectangle fills the screen. and he and the girl continue walking home together. the scene shifts to the train’s interior to show a boy and girl of middle-school age – an effective use of editing. stepping over the ties. the viewer has begun to understand that this taciturnity. That ends their conversation.’ the introduction to Dust in the Wind comes to an end.’ Hearing this. and their eyes fall again to their reading as they stand facing each other some distance away from the other passengers. While. ‘It’s a movie. the director nevertheless employs the unidirectionality of the camera angle and intermittent shaking of the screen to depict the motion of the train through the mountains as a single unbroken continuous event. set in the verdant mountains of Taiwan. Deeply moved by renewed recognition. reverberates with the constant screeching of railway wheels against the tracks. This color film by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The introduction to Dust in the Wind is not the only similarity between Hou HsiaoHsien’s direction and the very earliest films. the train that carries the boy and girl keeps moving ahead accompanied by the constant rhythm of the rails. Then the boy suddenly stops. in a khaki uniform like that of the Boy Scouts. Although no one could have anticipated hearing those words from the taciturn boy.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 The eloquence of the taciturn 185 as we are pulled endlessly through the constantly changing composition.

Only when we see the grandfather in his broad white straw hat standing at the station with the finished crutches do we understand the situation. Here we must not overlook the fact that. While it would not be strange to understand his distinctive frame composition as East Asian or Chinese. This elimination of dramatic elements through the use of distance. Hou directs the scene as one continuous shot. For Hou. thus minimizing the personal referentiality of the viewer to the persons and scenery shown in . The two shots that we have considered from Dust in the Wind re-emphasize to the viewer the importance of vehicles in the works of Hou Hsiao-Hsien. the camera does not approach the reunited family or cut into a series of sequential shots. If the viewer misses that gesture. It would also be possible to examine the technical aspects of his films. it is also possible to identify his originality in Dust in the Wind through the way his camerawork parallels that of the Lumière brothers at the dawn of film so many years earlier. and immobility is. in Dust in the Wind. This is not. who are talkative. As shown by the rectangular screen and the boy’s ‘It’s a movie’ comment. continuity. I would like to discuss Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s works through a theme that seems to control the dramatic elements of his films: railway trains. the arriving train moves diagonally from the left. and the children’s silence thus stands out even more. Only after that visual and sensual strength softens is the story gently spun out. all we have seen is the grandfather wordlessly cutting tree branches in the garden with a hatchet. while we might expect the scene of the boy meeting his father coming home from the hospital to contain an emotional element. The camera is located on the platform some distance away from the people waiting for the train. which is filmed from afar. Here. the train is shown arriving at the platform diagonally across the screen from the right. In any case. continuity. even though they are compatriots of the Lumière brothers. when they give voice-overs they do so with eloquence. Beyond them. But it is also true that this distance. and the distance and immobility of the camera are the same. Instead. both scenes consist of fixed shots of the train gradually losing speed and stopping and passengers disembarking. who was injured in a mining accident and has been hospitalized in the city. rather than serving the development of the story. even before a film is a story it is first something that stimulates the viewer through its images and sounds. and all that reached our ears was the sharp raspy sound of the blade as it was skillfully used to chop the wood. Instead. of course. the tracks stretch toward the top of the screen. the scene looks no different from any other day at a train station. rather. like the boy’s grandfather. It is the older people around them. It is vehicles that bring distance and motion to the screen in accordance with the local characteristics of the work. Hou is a more legitimate successor to the Cinématographe than are any contemporary French directors. In Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. Perhaps his avoidance of involvement in events testifies to the East Asian and Chinese characteristics that form his cultural background. of course. This does not mean that they are forbidden from speaking dialogue. While the angle is opposite. The director has not explained in advance that this scene will show a long-awaited family reunion. The only significant detail here is the grandfather silently handing over the handmade crutches and the father awkwardly using them as he begins walking along the platform. those images and sounds.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 186 Shigehiko Hasumi when the boy goes to the station with his grandfather (Li Tien-lu) to meet the boy’s father. an essential and distinctive element of Hou’s direction. and immobility – probably without the director even being aware of it – entice the viewer back to the time when the medium of film was fresh and new. the only suitable approach to his works. cut off that development and fill the work with a strength that forms its own new context. They also make us understand that most of the young people who are passengers on those forms of transportation are taciturn entities indeed. such as his refraining from the use of reverse shots or emotional close-ups.

as if to come to the rescue of that awkward conversation. Hou does more than just insert the images of moving vehicles into his films. those trains sharpen the dramatic situation. In fact. sipping sweet ice from cups with spoons. and. the carefree play of children in a railway switchyard. But these scenes do not indicate a special personal attachment by Hou to railways. 1983). 1982). which concludes with the image of train after train crossing over steel bridges. just as in the introduction to Dust in the Wind and in the scene. for instance. the operation of signals as trains approach. Green Grass of Home (Zai na hepan qingcao qing. If Dust in the Wind reflects the memories of screenwriter Wu Nien-jen. Once. nearly wall-less shop. in A Summer at Grandpa’s (Dongdong de jiaqi. 1984). 1985) performed by the boy protagonist and his grandmother at the sweets stand next to the train crossing. However. After a long shot of the two walking along a main road beneath huge trees with sagging branches. of the train carrying a brother and sister to the village where their grandfather lives. and she causes problems for her family when she wanders away from home time and again. During this time. sometimes it is on the platform – and each image imparts a distinct rhythm to that particular film. A Time to Die tells the story of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s own childhood as a Taiwan resident who was born on the mainland.The eloquence of the taciturn 187 his films. and he realizes his directorial intentions by bringing motion into the image rather than moving the camera itself around unnecessarily. in the short The Sandwich Man (Erzi de dawan’ou. By rushing past the film’s characters. declaring that she is going to return to mainland China. then A Time to Live. Recall. sequences such as the boy’s eyes. 2004). the . he nevertheless includes trains in many of his works. the boy remains silent. the splendid scene in A Time to Live. Hou’s films also include trains on which none of the characters are riding. A Time to Die (Tong nien wang shi. The breeze blows through the brightly lit. Another interesting approach would be to examine the meals that appear in all of his films and to reveal the issues of isolation and group behavior in his works from the viewpoint of which people sit at the table and how they do so. and. so here I would like just to return to the initial impact I felt when first seeing Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films and to consider their appeal through railways and other forms of transportation. sometimes it is next to the tracks. which begins with the arrival of a train and ends with a train’s departure. the grandmother and grandson leave together. when he mutters ‘It’s a movie. but none of the Taiwan-born women working in the shop understand the old woman’s Hakka dialect. the rising and falling of crossing gates. and the feeling of motion and the lively rumble of the passing freight trains seem to shake that open space.’ cutting to the white screen at which he is looking are the exception. including the platforms and ticket gates at the railway stations that are the scenes for meetings and partings. he once told an interviewer that he often got motion-sick when traveling by train as a child. while behind them pass several more freight cars. The elderly grandmother dotes on her grandson A Ha. Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 The passage of a train I do not need to point out how often Hou Hsiao-Hsien has pointed his camera at railways. another long shot is inserted showing a freight train passing a crossing by a narrow street of shops with a low rumble. But because of his commitment to spatial composition. But discussing all of these subjects would require more space. from Green. but she continues to wear her traditional black Chinese clothes. to Café Lumière (Kohi Jikou. The third shot shows the boy and old woman sitting next to each other at a shop by the train crossing. the distinctive round clocks of the stations. The grandmother utters the address of her home in China and asks how to get there. suggesting that the vibration of trains holds unpleasant associations for him. The motion of the passing trains is taken from many angles – sometimes the camera is inside the train. who was born and raised in Taiwan. He also directs his lens at a wide range of railway-related scenes.

Like Dust in the Wind. the train’s direction of movement and the position of the camera are completely opposite. it would have been both technically and financially impractical to bring a steam locomotive of 1949 vintage to that station for a single shot. presumably because. No actual steam trains appear on the screen. 1996). gazing vacantly at the train which makes no sign of stopping. but the camera. but the train rushing by shows clearly the bitter truth that they must abandon that hope. Such careful historical reconstruction was unnecessary in Goodbye South. and he appears restless as he barks orders into a mobile phone that seems to have bad reception. the photographer hopes to find a place to hide together with his family. Both in his autobiographical films. on the opposite platform. 1989). None of the taciturnity of the boy and girl in Dust in the Wind is visible in these outlaws’ faces. This long shot is a piercingly literal representation of the anxious solitude felt by the old woman exiled from her homeland. In the next shot we see several passing train carriages and. this film also begins with a train passing through a tunnel. the deaf-mute photographer (Tony Leung) – who has learned that he will soon be arrested – and his wife (Hsin Shu-fen) with their small child sitting on their two suitcases. Although both films begin with trains in motion. A Time to Die. and standing behind him are his henchman (Lim Giong) and his girlfriend (Annie Shizuka Inoh). but just stand motionless and gaze emptily after the train. Goodbye. The next shot in Goodbye South. A Time to Die must also have been pulled by a steam engine.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 188 Shigehiko Hasumi director Hou points his camera at the rear of a freight train as it moves away into the distance. the sound of the train is audible in the background even when the white titles are still appearing on the black screen. obviously their compositional designs are completely different. In the center is a gangsterlooking man in sunglasses (Jack Kao). we learn from the wife’s voice-over they had had no place to which to run. and in his works – beginning with A City of Sadness – that tell the history of Taiwan in the twentieth century. Hou is similarly careful to use sets and props that suggest the proper era. Like the old woman dreaming of returning to mainland China. That is why we often see black-covered rickshaws in his films. An empty station suddenly appears on the screen against a backdrop of a promontory stretching out to sea. The young couple do not look at each other. First of all. who are in forwardfacing seats. and the viewer cannot help but be moved. when the scene was filmed in 1989. when trains in Taiwan were still powered by steam. A sublimely heartrending depiction of the sense of powerlessness of characters before a passing train is the scene of the deserted seaside platform in A City of Sadness (Beiqing chengshi. but for the same reason no such locomotive appears on the screen. which is located inside the train car as it emerges from the tunnel. which tells the story of a trip south by two petty gangsters and their moll. The shot of the seaside platform in A City of Sadness is accompanied by the whistle of a steam locomotive because the historical setting is the year 1949. Hou is able to avoid anachronism. of which the director is clearly aware. it also forces the characters to abandon their departure to a distant place and propels them into powerlessness. faces backward and toward the faces of the passengers. . But Hou Hsiao-Hsien shows this only through the whistle’s sound. Goodbye (Nanguo zaijan. In the following scene. this scene of the passing train in A City of Sadness emphasizes the powerlessness of people in Taiwan when their small island fell into turmoil. In Goodbye South. The man in sunglasses keeps glancing to the sides. where she had been born and raised. for the setting is contemporary. such as A Time to Live. A Time to Die and Dust in the Wind. but the two openings differ in several ways. By skillfully editing his shots of the trains. The freight train passing the crossing in A Time to Live. Like the shot of the freight train going through the crossing in A Time to Live. and the whistle of a steam locomotive is heard in the distance. Although the train’s failure to stop stirs up a sense of distance. the unforgettable shot of the family having its picture taken. nanguo.

is quintessentially his. the train moves out of view. it contains a significant thematic repetition. As in almost all Taiwan films of that period.’ Like the music reverberating with a puppet-show gong at the beginning The Puppetmaster (Ximeng rensheng. Goodbye South. has a very long shot of a train with blue-painted sides passing by her feet as she stands atop a tall house in a seaside town in order to take pictures from an interesting angle. in which Feng Fei-fei plays a photographer with a film crew shooting a commercial. also blue. In the latter film. green grass’ from the very first shot of verdant fields stretching out to the foothills of distant mountains. Goodbye. Green Grass of Home. Hou’s stance in his first three films is consistent. which begins with a blue train carrying schoolchildren emerging from a tunnel. Hou had apparently not yet perfected his method for integrating natural sounds with background music. Green Grass of Home. But we soon understand that this exoticism is inviting the viewers to the ‘south. stopped below. and it livens up the film with a sense of motion very similar . 1981). both here and in Green. the henchman played by Lim Giong is shown eating rice from a bowl by himself on a roof at the first place where the gangsters stay during their trip south. Other than a brief whistle. that film. With the insertion of its pop title song at three points in the film – at the introduction. Green Grass of Home. for a nearly identical situation can be seen in Goodbye South. with its episodic depictions of the unexpected behavior of boys and girls at an elementary school. Goodbye that plays in the background. this music at the very start of the film creates an exotic impression. Whether Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s use of the deep blue trains. in the middle. The music was composed by Lim Giong. This thematic repetition extending across two films makes a profound impression on the viewer. his first film with Chu Tien-wen as screenwriter. Also important is the pop-rock music in Goodbye South. Cheerful Wind. the main characters Kenny Bee and Jiang Ling are shown cheerfully singing a duet about the ‘green. continuous. the sound of the train is nearly absent.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 The eloquence of the taciturn 189 Goodbye also contrasts with that in Dust in the Wind. 1980). For viewers who do not recall ever having heard such seemingly synthesized music in the films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien before. after loading passengers. and again at the end – this film clearly seems to have been designed partly as a musical that would promote the popularity of Kenny Bee as a singer. capturing on film a flowing backing shot of a passing train going in the opposite direction through a station. the screen format was CinemaScope. for the camera is placed at the end of the train. Goodbye. 1993). Cheerful Wind (Feng er ti ta cai. and immobile shots. Although this shot seems to be only a minor episode. and the low melody that he himself is probably singing brings a contemporary rhythm to the scene. is intentional on his part or just represents the reality of trains in Taiwan is unclear. who plays one of the gangsters. and Hou used many tracking shots. and even zoom transitions in surprising contrast to his later compositional techniques of distant. 1983). When he made Green. together with the sound of the train. But it is more than the difference between advancing and backing shots that makes these two films different. and his second work. similar to Hou’s debut film Cute Girls (Jiushi liuliu de ta. and in fact this scene of eating outdoors overlapping. which became his signature style around the time of The Boys from Fengkuei (Fengkuei-lai-te jen. In Green. But in terms of how his camera looks at trains. Goodbye is not the first Hou film to use pop music as a background to images of trains. For example. Nevertheless. without transition. pans. and the tracks passing through a narrow street of shops like the tracks that the middle school students had walked along in the earlier film. Goodbye as it suddenly glides into the scene as seen from the roof is especially conspicuous in the southern light. The camera then pans slightly to show a train. but that deep blue of the train in Goodbye South. Hou uses sounds and images at the openings of his films to set the mood decisively. the scene of the train is one of the most unforgettable shots in Goodbye South. which also starred the pop singer Feng Feifei.

but we later learn that the situation is not so simple. But the car requires superior skill to drive. the only available means of transportation is the motorbike. The misfortune of automobiles One is reminded now of the weak presence of automobiles in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films. Let’s remember who has driven the cars in Hou’s films so far. While she is the daughter of a wealthy man and is shown to be a modern woman skillfully managing her father’s company and entertaining overseas visitors. she gets together with the young man with the motorbike who had seemed to be her adversary. Goodbye. the luxury car seems to symbolize the rich and the motorbike the common people. His autobiographical films set in rural Taiwan and his films about the history of modern Taiwan do frequently show rickshaws. which was Hou’s first film taken with formalist directorial intentions. While cars appear frequently in his first three films. Hou himself starred in Edward Yang’s Taipei Story (Qingmei zhuma. his first film set in contemporary Taipei. His avoidance of automobiles for nearly five years made Hou Hsiao-Hsien quite unusual among the generation of directors that rose to prominence in the 1980s. her inability to park it draws a derisive smile from the man. Another possible reason is that few of his stories are set in contemporary cities. First they ride motorbikes along unpaved roads that wind beneath leafy green trees. and their riding is captured with a long moving shot that creates a splendid sense of motion. When his camera is pointed at moving cars. she shies away from the marriage that her parents have arranged for her with the scion of a rich family. Here. She leaves the city. they are negative elements that contribute nothing to the development of the story. from Daughter of the Nile to Goodbye South. Cute Girls. We cannot know why he continued to avoid cars for nearly another decade. During that same period. the screen suddenly goes dark and the sound of the moving train is heard. use one means of transportation after another. moves in with an aunt in the countryside. the roles performed by the cars are negative. But the situation suddenly becomes more serious when they switch to a car. Feng Fei-fei’s expression as she is rocked leisurely along to her aunt’s home in a farmer’s cultivator is completely free of the care and tension she had shown when driving her fancy car around the city. the drivers are all young women. in most cases. and . while in Daughter of the Nile and his later films about life in the big city. Perhaps the confined space inside cars is inappropriate for the distant shots that form the basis for his compositional design. 1987). and starts working as a substitute teacher. the drivers are rough-natured men. In his first three works. and. neither celebrating the love between a man and a woman nor offering physical protection from attack. In each case. 1985) and was shown driving a car through the streets of Taipei. The train soon emerges from the tunnel into the light. they become less prominent beginning with The Boys from Fengkuei. for his younger characters from the country struggling to live in the city. But in a typical Hou Hsiao-Hsien touch.190 Shigehiko Hasumi Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 to the opening of Dust in the Wind. and she stalks off indignantly. they bring none of the vigor to the screen that is provided by trains. This plot twist is reminiscent of the 1930s Hollywood romantic comedies analyzed by Elizabeth Kendall in The Runaway Bride (Kendall 1990). What is interesting now is that the three gangsters. as they continue their journey south. which are more suitable vehicles for the elderly than are cars. and the scene shifts to a shot from the driver’s seat as it advances along gentle curves through the deep green natural setting of the southern lands. and none appear at all until Daughter of the Nile (Niluohe nuer. In the opening of his debut film. so the absence of automobiles from his own films raises intriguing questions. After various complications. When this shot ends. the heroine (Feng Fei-fei) is shown gallantly driving a flashy yellow luxury car through the lively areas of Taipei and catching the eye of a young man on a small motorbike (Kenny Bee).

Green Grass of Home. so she drops him off in the middle of the deserted rainy mountains and returns to Taipei by herself. But he has been seen riding bicycles around with a female fellow teacher (Jiang Ling). she is late to meet her father at a train station. like Dust in the Wind. its front window is broken. the car is attacked by an opposing group. and he seems to believe that driving a car could never help to unite a man and a woman romantically. which. the young man can no longer say in Taipei. this facile depiction of youthful frolicking. Having fallen into a forbidden love with his friend’s sister. Hou seems to like its leisurely motion. This apparent change in the role of transportation inserted by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. and she constantly quarrels with her father and older brother. she realizes that his feelings for her have weakened. she goes by motorbike as usual. This scene shows clearly once again that. The woman borrows a car from a colleague and begins to capture on film the life of the blind young man in the city. an automobile cannot become a setting for love. Her mother has just died of an illness. is of course surprising. the automobile appears as an ominous. The long moving shot of the two gangsters and their moll zigzagging along a curvy southern road after switching from train to motorbikes brings an exhilarating sense of motion previously unseen in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s works. In Daughter of the Nile. Cheerful Wind. is shot just after he gets out of the car. and a friend who tries to intervene is shot. and one can only worry about his girlfriend’s unexpected arrival. When she goes picnicking at the shore with a friend of her brother’s whom she secretly likes. but during the shooting the car is towed away by the police for illegal parking. so the car driver is the female photographer (Feng Fei-fei). The automobile thus fulfills its role as an inauspicious means of transportation. Again it becomes clear that automobiles offer no protection to men trying to escape. When another young man and woman are shown riding in an open front-wheel-drive car. is a blind youth from the countryside waiting for a cornea operation. and all the car has done is throw her life into turmoil. It appears to the viewer of this scene that the . but he. they seem to be celebrating a feeling of transient liberation. He asks the heroine for money and tries to escape by automobile. Like the young man from the country in Dust in the Wind. The protagonist of Hou’s next film. The only place for the substitute teacher and his young colleague to confirm their love for each other is the train that they both board at the end of the film. As a result. But in the car on the way to the capital. The motorbike she rides thus symbolizes not only the financial pressure felt by her unhappy family but also the freedom that she craves. Green. the Taipei-residing heroine of Daughter of the Nile (Yang Lin) travels by motorbike as she goes between her part-time job at a fast food restaurant and her evening high school. This is the first film in which Hou Hsiao-Hsien directs his camera at nighttime scenes of innumerable headlights moving about through the dark in a modern metropolis. life-threatening form of transportation. The slow-moving cultivator is also her vehicle when she leaves the village. riding alongside the friend’s car. A young man who has been assigned as a substitute teacher in a rural area (Kenny Bee) is suddenly visited by his girlfriend. Goodbye. The girlfriend. This background must be considered when analyzing the significance of the various forms of transportation that appear in Goodbye South. The director almost seems to have chosen this situation in order to avoid having his male lead drive a car as part of the story. for Hou.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 The eloquence of the taciturn 191 she appears completely at home in that setting. who seem to have become involved in some shady business. too. gaudily dressed in city style with a bright red blouse and blue slacks. ignores the widespread concern and succeeds in abducting the substitute teacher from his outdoor class. who tries to convince him to return to Taipei immediately. This misfortune brought about by an automobile is even more pronounced in Hou’s third film. But immediately after they return to Taipei. begins with a moving train.

in which the heroine learns of her vanished brother’s death from a newspaper article. the woman is left behind by the passing trains and can only reach in vain across the widening. With its theme of sexual mores in a large city. Hsu Chi arrives at the man’s room in a small Tokyo hotel where there is only a slight clue to the man’s whereabouts. Goodbye. In the earlier film. which depicted the conflicts of men and women in a Shanghai red-light district at the end of the Qing Dynasty. unable to bear the selfishness of the man she lives with. is welcoming them warmly. in Millennium Mambo. Millennium Mambo is an ambitious work that. Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua. 2001) begins in contemporary Taipei. recognize how valuable they are to each other. Despite the farewell to the south suggested by the film’s title. and they lose the chance to escape. The time relationship of this episode to the rest of the film is unclear. through the setting of a modern urban nightclub that is a den for gangsters. The situation is remarkably similar to that in Daughter of the Nile. but it has vanished into the distance. who gives her a. runs away and becomes a hostess at the club. tells the same story as Hou’s previous film. But when they get in a car and start driving around the town at night to enact some trifling revenge. with shots of snowy scenes and the heroine’s voice-over recalling the valuable person she has lost forever. resembles that between the heroine of Daughter of the Nile and her older brother. Goodbye a long shot of the car stuck in a green field – is a vivid visualization of the thematic negativity that automobiles possess for Hou Hsiao-Hsien. According to the dynamics of transportation in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films. But the misfortune of the automobile as a means of transportation is unchanged. Walkman. 1998). and their second drive seems like a parting ceremony for the two. and they are captured. A young woman who has been tossed about by fate (Hsu Chi). but this is where Millennium Mambo draws to a close. they get caught by the police. their last remaining desperate chance for getting money slips out of their hands. for soon the gangster disappears from the woman’s life. The woman’s innocent pleasure at being rocked around in the car as the man drives is shown twice by Hou in backing shots taken outdoors. Nothing tells her where he has gone. presumably stolen. These relations between men and women that Hou Hsiao-Hsien chose to depict around the turn of the millennium show a new aspect of the theme of the eloquence of the taciturn. the woman had already lost that man when she rode in his car in Taipei and when trains passed her by soon after she arrived in Tokyo. her relationship with the man. like the old woman and her grandson sipping sweet ice at the stand next to the train crossing. She falls for a gangster customer (Jack Kao) in whose presence she feels amazingly calm. awash in dazzling light and color. All she can grasp for in this foreign city is the absent shadow of his treasured presence. In its transcendence of sex. When. Millennium Mambo (Quanxi manbo. driving the car prevents these young people from escaping from the south. Two people. who invites the emaciated woman to his home and cooks noodles for her. and its story assumes the misfortune of automobiles as already depicted in Daughter of the Nile and Goodbye South. Then suddenly the forward motion of an automobile driving straight along a snow-covered road brings the abandoned woman to Yubari in central Hokkaido. and it becomes difficult for them to part. unfathomable gulf between her and the man. a high-ranking civil servant who is a regular customer at a high-class brothel in Shanghai is suddenly transferred away. The final image in Goodbye South. all that is visible is a constant stream of trains passing back and forth outside the window by which she stands. Like the photographer and his family standing on the seaside train platform in A City of Sadness. . who neither embrace nor caress each other nor speak any sexual words.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 192 Shigehiko Hasumi southern landscape. while in the later one the Proustian disappearance is of an honorable man who has accepted the gangster’s code of honor.

sometimes watches trains together with him. The relationship between this man and woman clearly repeats the one in Millennium Mambo. and immobility of the camera in Dust in the Wind have been effortlessly abandoned. but fortunately there are train tracks running all around the woman and trains appear wherever the camera points. Here. Borzoi Book. does that mean that he has matured as a director? All we can say for certain is that the thematic relationship between man and woman described in Millennium Mambo appears more intimately in Café Lumière. continuity. Hou’s first foreign work. too. we should expect from Hou Hsiao-Hsien new depictions of another dimension of love. The distance. so she never has to get into a car with him. The Tokyo of this film. as he records the train sounds. we must not overlook the fact that none of the trains crossing the screen in Café Lumière resembles the trains of the Lumière brothers. While we must not forget the silence between the boy and girl as they let themselves be rocked back and forth by the train in the opening of Dust in the Wind. The heroine is pregnant with another man’s child and intends to give birth to the baby even if she must become an unmarried mother. No compositions remind us of their Arrival of a Train. and none of the neon signs of the entertainment districts. one that transcends sex.Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 The eloquence of the taciturn 193 At finally we arrive at the Hou HsiaoHsien of Café Lumière and its depiction of the railway networks that crisscross Japan’s capital city. While the man and woman are older than the middle-school students in Dust in the Wind. so too does this young bookseller never converse with the woman as long as they are on a train. She stands on platforms with him. something he refrained from showing on film after his earlier autobiographical works. includes none of the bustle of government and business in the downtown areas. . in the form of the eloquence of the taciturn. Just as the deaf-mute photographer in A City of Sadness does not talk with his wife. And what about Hou Hsiao-Hsien himself? Has he changed with Café Lumière? Or is he still the same? Is he perhaps in the midst of a decisive transformation? If he has already changed. With the background of trains crossing each other on multiple lines. Hou’s view of the city is characterized rather by the fact that his camera ignores completely the expressways that have been the image of cities of the future ever since Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). Knopf. After graduating from the UT in 1958. they speak just as little to each other. I suspect that this director will show us very soon more couples who establish deeper relations beyond the medium of sex. Author’s biography Shigehiko HASUMI is Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo. Here. New York: Alfred A. none of the city’s skyscrapers. and the constantly passing trains seem to have been transformed into something other than a mode of transportation. but I am unable to know whether those new stories. and sometimes lets herself fall asleep to the uneven rocking of the trains. References Kendall. This taciturnity is connected to the unusual hobby of the young used-bookseller (Tadanobu Asano) who supports the heroine (Yo Hitoto) in various ways – he likes to go around recording on-site the sounds of moving trains. without speaking. Whenever he can. Elizabeth (1990) The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s. She feels calm just to ride trains next to the bookseller. will reverberate with the sound of passing trains. for he is always wearing earphones and holding a recorder in his hand. taciturnity suggests a love that needs no sexual language. he avoids putting his young characters in automobiles. filling the screen instead with the motion of trains. of which he acted as President (1997–2001). he introduces a taciturn couple who recognize the value of each other’s presence. for the train cars that Hou Hsiao-Hsien captures on film rush by in no particular direction. sometimes passes him by.

194 Shigehiko Hasumi Downloaded By: [DEFF] At: 13:12 14 May 2009 he received a Doctorate degree from the University of Paris in 1965. in Italian (on Takeshi Kitano and Clint Eastwood). Kunitoshi Manda (Unloved) and Hideo Nakata (Ring). Seijun Suzuki – The Desert under the Cherry Blossoms (Film Festival Rotterdam. Shinji Aoyama (Eureka). As a scholar in Film Studies. French translation. Setagaya. Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Jean Renoir). . Japan. Some of his articles are available in English (on Pedro Costa. in French (on Ford. Hawks. Festival Internacional de cine San Sebastian. 1997). 1997) and Mikio Naruse (co-editor. Sadao Yamane. John Ford and Howard Hawks). His book-length publications include Yasujiro Ozu (1983. Contact address: 1-29-17 Hanegi. Il Cinema di Kato Tai (co-editor. Makoto Shinozaki (Unforgotten). he has supervised many outstanding students: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Kairo). 1991). 1998). Sadao Yamane. Festival Internazionale Cinema Giovani. Tokyo 156-0042.