Goodbye, South, Goodbye
English Title: Goodbye, South, Goodbye
Country of Origin: China
Studio: 3H Films, Shochiku
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Screenplay: Chu Tian-wen
Art Director: Huang Wen-ying
Editor: Liao Ching-Song
Runtime: 100 minutes
This is a film by Hou Hsiao-hsien set in the contemporary Taiwan of the 1990s. Flatty and Kao are two friends who embark on a road trip to southern Taiwan in search of elusive treasure. Kao’s only wish is to open a restaurant in Mainland China, whereas Flatty only hopes to get his due from some financial dealings involving his extended family. However, neither is ever quite able to achieve their goals largely because of their lack of necessary connections. As a result, they even meet violence at the hands of those who are connected. In the end they both are in a desolate field in Taiwan with the sun rising, shining light on an uncertain future.
Every film by Hou Hsiao-hsien at first glance seems more loosely constructed than one later finds with closer analysis. Nevertheless, Goodbye, South, Goodbye is undeniably the most haphazardly constructed film Hou has ever attempted. His original inspiration was the interaction between Jack Kao, Lim Going and Annie Shizuka Inoh at the Cannes Film Festival. Yet some of the ideas found here – most of all, shady economic and political dealings involving pig farms – were first to be used in Good Men, Good Women (1995), something found in the published script in Chinese. The end result is a hodgepodge of sorts: twice the film’s production was halted before being completed, and Hou only managed to finish the third time after seeing once more how relentless the protagonist is in Godard’s Breathless (1960). The end result is not a film that is so much as indirect (which Hou has always strived for) as it is very loose, even after closer analysis.
While one of the more overlooked of Hou’s films, Goodbye, South, Goodbye is still significant for several reasons. First, this film fully confirmed what many could not quite accept with his previous film, Good Men, Good Women: the old Hou signature-style of static long takes was now a thing of the past. Here we enter a brave new world of an ever moving camera, including prolonged handheld shots in nightclubs which display none of the former precision of the earlier Hou, nor the more intricate arrangement of mise en scène to be found in his next film, Flowers of Shanghai (1998).
Perhaps most significant, however, is how much this film catalogues the nature of a lot of economic activity in Taiwan. If the film as a film seems uncertain and slapdash, so do the contours of a lot of everyday economic life on the island. Such deal making as seen here is not that much outside of the norm, and often leads to real internal strife among family members, as occurs with Flatty who essentially is thrown out of town for attempting to claim what he believes is rightfully his. (The film does not verify one way or the other how legitimate this claim actually is.) Meanwhile, Kao’s dream of opening a restaurant in China is a true sign of the times, given the billions of dollars Taiwanese have invested in the Mainland and the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who currently live there. Without even announcing it, and without even judging it, Hou is frankly laying out the ‘dirty laundry’ of Taiwan’s economic miracle. His point is not to condemn it nor praise it, since Hou almost always resists doing either. Instead, this economy shown here at its most intimate level is merely what it is and nothing more. Thus, even in this film where Hou does not seem to be at his most aesthetically accomplished, there is once again more than meets the eye.
Author of this review: James Udden