Recently upgraded with a renovation in both DVD and BluRay formats,Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 8th feature film, DAUGHTER OF THE NILE is chronologically pigeonholed between his COMING OF AGE Trilogy (1984-1986) and TAIWANESE HISTORY Trilogy (1989-1995), which might partially account for its unregarded predicament. Its title borrows from a Japanese manga which regularly occupies the thoughts of our protagonist Hsiao-yang (Yang Lin), a 20-year-old girl juggling between moonlighting in KFC and night school, she also shoulders on the onus as a materfamilias of the household living on the fringe of the metropolis Taibei, her mother died of cancer, his father (Tsui) is perennially absent and works in the southern province, an elder brother Hsiao-fang (Kao) is a burglar, who recently opens a bar with his chums, plus, there is a younger sister (Tsai) for her to minister to.
The film meanders in Hou’s trademark slow pace through the unfazed lens of principally static frame and narrative elisions to contemplate life’s vicissitudes being inflicted on those who are very close to Hsiao-yang (males only), under its sublimely lyrical score. She carries a torch for San (Yang Fan), one of Hsiao-fang’s friends, who doesn’t reciprocate her affection and is perilously involved with a married woman with gangster background, and this relationship will eventually not just become his undoing but also torpedo Hsiao-fang’s business with a knock-on effect, what Hou tries to evoke with its youngster characters is a permeating atmosphere of angst, chagrin, ennui, unrest and nostalgia in a society casts no hope on those marginalized.
In the leading role, Taiwanese pop singer Yang Lin is a far cry from Hou’s future muses Annie Yi andShu Qi, and has no courage to shuck off her“good girl” nimbus except in one scene, trying stiltedly to play tough when confronting another classmate in the lady’s room, elsewhere, Hsiao-yang is basically distanced from the tragedies befall on her beloved ones, a dejected receptacle passively receiving the bad tidings. On the other hand, Jack Kao, who pensively withholds his usual bovver impulse, stands out as a morose chain-smoker wrong-footed by fraternal impetuosity and its repercussions. Additionally, the puppeteer Li Tianlu, whose memoirs would later be transposed by Hou into THE PUPPETMASTER (1993), sweetly plays a gabby grandfather to tone down the often depressed aura in the two-by-four abode where the family stays, his harangue on a nagging daughter-in-law and comments on farting imbues a veristic vibe which would be endearingly cherished in Hou’s tentative sortie of delving into the mindset of Taiwan’s urban youth, but there is no correlation with the Nile whatsoever.
referential points: Hou’s THE ASSASSIN (2015, 8.7/10), A CITY OF SADNESS (1989, 7.8/10), Edward Yang’s A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (1991, 8.9/10).