(Hou Hsaio Hsien, Taiwan, 1997)
After a dip into the besotted beauty of Wong Kar-Wai, it was a welcome and enlightening change of pace to re-view this stubbornly odd and beautiful film, released around the same time.
Hou can be understood, simplistically but not entirely incorrectly, as the anti-Wong. Whereas Wong can whip a scene of two characters talking in a cafe into a swoony reverie of longing and regret, Hou can turn the same situation into an occasion for subtle humor, which can then suddenly become exquisite pathos. Whereas Wong delights in underlining the emotional core of a scene with light, music, cutting, and camera movement, Hou is a much more laconic stylist, revealing himself only by degrees, and requiring considerably astute attention from the audience. And yet there is much in Hou's work that is directly, gorgeously sensual, just as there is plenty in Wong's stuff that is deliberately elusive.
GSG on this viewing played like a strange, ultramodern version of Buster Keaton. Many of the major moments are undercut with absurdity and irony in ways that are too perfect not to be designed for such an effect. Hou is unparalleled (except perhaps by Kiorostami) in making the events in his movies feel both utterly spontaneous (even random) and calibrated to an eighth of an inch.