The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
The second part of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Coming-of-Age trilogy is based on Hou’s own childhood. Tong nien wang shi begins with Hou’s voiceover recalling that his father relocated from Mei County, Kwangtung Province, in mainland China to Taiwan shortly after his birth, with him and the rest of the family following a year after. Hou, in effect, knew only the new country; his difficult adjustment, therefore, was to his family, whose difficulty adjusting to Taiwan exceeded his—although, because of his connection to them, he also experienced an acute sense of loss of homeland.
Tong nien wang shi comprises incidents—recollections, to which Hou has added imagination, especially regarding his mother, who is seen explaining things to the family that goes beyond what she must have said at the time. One infers from this Hou’s greatest need for reconciliation with the memory of the woman who spunkily spanked him and kept the family together. However, it is Grandma whose wanderings keep her searching for Mekong Bridge and the way home. Eventually Grandma returns to the mainland.
We know the name of Hou’s father from her cries at hospital at his death. Fen-ming! A laterally moving shot records the children’s faces of grief. Ah-hsiao, or Ah-ha, as his peers teasingly put it, is bathing in an adjacent room when he hears his mother’s piercing lament.
We watch the boy and other children at play and getting into more serious trouble. It is the portrait of a great artist as not yet a young man.
Tong nien wang shi is a gently melancholy work, full of a sense of lost cultural moorings that Hou now can grasp as an adult. The film is his brilliant attempt to fill in the blanks of his aching heart.
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