Criterion Prediction #176: The Boys From Fengkuei, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Boys From Fengkuei
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Cast: Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Chang Shih, Lin Hsiu-Ling, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Tou Chung-Hua
Synopsis: Ah-Ching and his friends spend their days in Fengkuei getting drunk and getting into fights with rival hoods. They decide to relocate to the port city of Kaohsiung to look for work and better their lives, and although their prospects look bright upon arrival, Ah-Ching and his friends soon realize the hardships of growing up in a new city.
Critique: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s work is pivotal in the conversation of the Taiwanese New Wave and The Boys From Fengkuei is one of the most pivotal titles in his career. In what he refers to as his self proclaimed “first real film,” it’s directed with a remarkable ability to capture the essence of a time and a place. I’m a sucker for atmosphere, and Hou’s work is transportive, the resounding effect is calming, hypnotic and unemphatically mournful. The Boys From Fengkuei achieves something more ethereal in capturing the naturalism of its characters, in a way that exceeds the tenets of neorealism because it’s a movement that, like Italian neorealism (there are many parallels drawn between the two), it’s inspired by cultural and political discord. Yet directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien bring a more cathartic substance in his personal explorations. The Boys from Fengkuei and the films that follow focus on the unspoken effects of displacement, and in doing so we get subtle moments that, at first, seem like banal, slice-of-life sequences. The boys goofily dance in front of a girl while waves crash behind them, putt around on scooters, and hop fences after a street fight, but Hou Hsiao-hsien holds us captive with a buffer of enticement. While there’s some space between us and the action. We get the feeling and emotional substance of these moments, and throughout The Boys from Fengkuei we see a director settle into his aesthetic stride, uniting political context and poetic humanism with composed harmony.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Films from Taiwanese New Wave have been trickling into The Criterion Collection for years now, it started back in 2010 with their release of Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi. Then the doors widened with the version of Yang’s monumental A Brighter Summer Day and were nudged a bit further with the inclusion of yet another Edward Yang film, Taipei Story, with the second volume in Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. So, that “trickle” of Taiwanese cinema could expand into a stream if they choose a film by someone other than Edward Yang – Hou Hsiao-hsien perhaps? There are remastered versions of his movies floating around in the Blu-ray market. Masters of Cinema assembled a handsome collection of his early films, Cute Girl, The Green, Green Grass of Home and The Boys from Fengkuei. The director’s 1987 film The Daughter of the Nile has another standalone MOC release, while that title seems like a prospective candidate for a spine number, but was released on Blu-ray in North American via Cohen Media.
It’s been rumored that The Boys From Fengkuei is primed for a Criterion release, plus, the film is part of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project/Film Foundation so there could be a chance it would appear in another World Cinema Project Volume.