Cute Girl

      Comments Off on Cute Girl

I first saw Cute Girl (1980) way back when the Dutch home video label CINEMATEK issued its triple feature boxed set of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first three features. At the time an all-regions DVD player was the only way to become acquainted with the early works of Hou. Objectively the most interesting film of the three is The Boys From Fengkuei (1983) but I took a personal shine to Cute Girl.

Cute Girl is a very silly, very carefree kind of romantic comedy. It captures the essence of a free-wheelin’ summer’s day in its scenes of the idyllic countryside. There is a tenderness and a warmth to Hou’s images that, when coupled with the very catchy pop songs becomes a sweet sensory confection. So I find myself, as the weather gets warmer, being drawn back to Hou’s Cute Girl again.

Cute Girl was Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first feature film as a director. The project came as a studio assignment and is typical of romantic comedies of this period. At the time a romantic comedy was as much a showcase for pop songs as it was for the lead actors. But even working in this formula Hou manages to leave his own personal mark on the genre.

Hou’s preoccupation with the cultural differences between rural and urban backgrounds forms the subtext of his earliest features including Cute Girl. In Cute Girl this conflict between the classes as signified by urban and rural cultures is the basis of the animosity between the Pan family and Daigang (Kenny Be). This issue is never directly addressed but it still helps inform Daigang’s eligibility as a husband in the eyes of the Pans,

Also present is Hou’s knack for splitting the frame in his compositions into smaller geometric units that isolate characters on different spacial planes. Daigang’s search for a toilet or his walk with Wenwen (Fong Fei-fei) are excellent examples of this visual strategy. As a conceptual thinker Hou is able to imbue what is a routine assignment with a style in the making.

Obviously Cute Girl isn’t one of Hou’s greatest achievements. But to write off Cute Girl as something akin to juvenalia is a mistake. As a romantic comedy of its period Cute Girl is pretty good and therefore it is a success. One can see in Cute Girl and Hou’s other films of the early eighties all the promise of his more accomplished works such as Daughter Of The Nile (1987). In an auteurist context Cute Girl is indispensable.