The Top Directors Working Today: Hou Hsaio-hsien

When I first asked for some names for the project, a lot of people said I should look at Hou Hsiao-hsien. I had yet to see a Hou film, but felt I needed to take a look before this post arrived. I've now seen two...MILLENNIUM MAMBO and THREE TIMES.

His mood and many dreamy shots remind me of Wong Kar Wai. In particular, the opening long shot of MILLENNIUM MAMBO and the third story in THREE TIMES (especially when Shu Qi uses the florescent light to look at the photo and the framing of the conversation at the club bathroom). There's also a strong feeling of people trying to make human connections over great emotional (and sometimes geographical) distances that reminds me of WKW.

The films I saw were also very minimalist in nature with only a few characters and long periods of silence. Everything is stripped down, like with Kim Ki-duk. That being said, Hou is not ripping off these other filmmakers. They each have their own distinct personality. He just works in the same kind of sub-genre. Some of his shots are breathtaking and he's very good at capturing the emotional tone of a story. In fact, he completely nails it. However, I don't think he's quite Great. I'd put him on the 2nd tier. Yet I'm definitely hungry for more, and with almost 20 films to his credit, I'm sure there's one I would just L-O-V-E.

According to the poll on Filmspotting...

23% think he's Great and can't wait to see more.
31% say they've seen enough to say he's really good.
8% have seen his films and think he's okay.
38% have yet to see any of his films, but are interested.

One of the two or three greatest working directors...

Pretty, pretty good. Although I'd say that it takes a bit to get used to him.

Kim's heavy-handedness is vastly different from Hou.

Three Times is more a survey of both Taiwanese history and film (both Asian film in general and Hou's own previous work). I think the first section of Three Times is more reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai (it's set in the same time period as several of Wong's films as well) than anything else I've seen from Hou. Most distinctive in Hou's style, I think, is the way his camera drifts across the frame: up, down and side to side, but rarely (if ever) either tracking or zooming into space.
I don't know that Hou is necessarily actively avoiding a mass audience in favor of an international group of cinephiles. It may just be that, like Godard thinking Breathless was realistic, he's just not capable of making his films any other way. Unfortunately, for those of us who only speak English, we're pretty much limited to the last 10 years of Hou's 30 year career until some decent distributor manages to get some DVDs put together.


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