Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 116 min.  |   Countries - Japan , Taiwan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Jonathan Crow

The opening shot of Goodbye South Goodbye, a beautiful point of view shot of a train lumbering up a winding mountain track, is identical to his wistful 1987 film Dust in the Wind. Yet while that film details the lost love and innocence among Taiwan's downwardly mobile, this film shows the disillusionment of a "have-not" desperately trying to be a "have." It is almost as if the main character of Dust, embittered and jaded, mutates into one of the luckless gangsters of South. Training his eye on modern society after a decade of unearthing Taiwan's repressed history, Hou Hsiao-Hsien presents Taiwan where everyone is racing to some destination without a coherent reason why, and where everyone is blathering on cell phones but few are actually communicating. Following this, Hsien's usually static camera sweeps and shifts over the subjects with the nervous energy of a caged tiger, yet his camera's relationship with the film's luckless protagonists is a complex one. At various points, the camera takes on the point of view of the character, a striking difference from the observation style that marked much of his work. In one scene, we see a long shot -- seemingly unconnected with the rest of the narrative -- of the camera whizzing along the scooter-filled streets of Taipei. Inexplicably, the shot is seen through a green filter. A half-hour later, the viewer learns that Flathead has a penchant for wearing tinted sunglasses. At the same time, the camera mocks its characters. As Kao and Flathead argue and scheme, speeding to one place or another, the camera pointedly steps away from the characters and lingers on Taiwan's lush landscape in a manner that recalls the later works of Kenji Mizoguchi. An impressionistic critique on modern society and a bold stylistic change for one of world's greatest directors, Goodbye South Goodbye is an elegant, masterful work.