Three friends from the fishing village of Fengkuei have finished school and spend their days idling, drinking and fighting. They decide to move to the port city of Kaohsiung to look for work. Away from the familiar community of their hometown, the three friends must now face the harsh realities of adulthood and living in a big city.
Based on director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s own experiences, The Boys from Fengkuei captures the transition from adolescent recklessness to responsible adulthood from the perspective of young boys. Hou’s film was instrumental in launching the Taiwanese New Wave, inspiring filmmakers such as Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-liang. Films of this period were down-to-earth depictions of life in Taiwan, a large contrast to the kung-fu action and melodrama films from before, with influences from Italian neorealism.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Hou has regarded The Boys from Fengkuei to be his personal favourite in his filmography as he felt he had a lot of artistic control over the film because it was independently produced. It was considered his first auteur film, where he began to experiment with long takes, wide-angle shots and melodrama-free plotlines. Similar to how the boys in the film experience new changes as they grow up, Hou’s craft undergoes a developmental process as well.
This coming-of-age film shows Hou’s minimalist style that is emotionally charged with highly nostalgic imagery. It is reminiscent of the Taiwan of his youth, with Hou confronting the economic and social changes of his homeland. It is ultimately a delicate balance between a social commentary and a heart-warming tale of family and fraternity.
Awards: Nantes Three Continents Film Festival (Golden Montgolfiere Award)
One of Taiwan’s most prominent and respected directors, Hou Hsiao-Hsien was a leading figure of the Taiwanese New Wave cinema movement in the 1980s, a response to rival the rising popularity of Hong Kong cinema. Having grown up in the 1960s, Hou’s films are often reflective of a Taiwan that was struggling with Western-style industrialization. Hou’s films have gone to win awards at prestigious international film festivals such as the Berlin International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival for films such as A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985) and A City of Sadness (1989) respectively.