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GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE (NANGUO ZAI JIAN, NANGUO) (director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien; screenwriters: Chu Tien-wen/from a story by King Jieh-wen and Jack Kao; cinematographers: Li Ping-Bin/Chen Hwai-en; editor: Liao Ching-song; cast: Jack Kao (Gao), Hsu Kuei-ying (Ying), Lim Giong (Flathead), Annie Shizuka Inoh (Pretzel), Hsi Hsiang (Hsi), Ming Kao (Ming), Pi-tung Lien (Tung), Ming Lei (Gao’s Father), Vicky Wei (Hui); Runtime: 116; 3H Films/Team Okuyama; 1996-Taiwan/Japan)
“Another slow moving but electrically penetrating film by one of the world’s best directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another slow moving but electrically penetrating film by one of the world’s best directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien (A City of Sadness/The Puppetmaster). This one hones in on the ugliness and despair of the human condition. His distinguishable long take shots are much in evidence, as the only thing that changes in this stylish film is the subject matter being about gangsters facing contemporary money problems instead of his usual historical take on things. The style of his noted framed shots are slightly altered in a grittier way to keep pace with this faster moving world. He uses a nightclub singer, one of the film’s stars, Lim Giong, whose song in a garishly lit disco tells how love and hate can both kill and how a real man is one that has the guts to go on living without killing himself or others.

It’s the story of a group of small-time ambitious punks who have their sights set on moving up through their underworld contacts and are trying to solve their money woes by planning a series of scams. The film acts as a guide to understanding the moral, political, economic and social climate of Taiwan in the 1990s.

Jack Gao is known as Uncle Gao by his extended family of cousins and acquaintances that look to him for support. He’s a heavily tattooed, struggling, shady Taipei businessman with underworld connections, who walks the not so fine line between the two. His inexperienced gang is made up of his protégé, a loose cannon called Flathead (Taiwan pop star Lim Giong) and his girlfriend, a floozy named Pretzel (Annie Shizuka Inoh), who is a big loser at the mahjong table which causes her to attempt to commit suicide. Flathead is someone who can’t stay out of trouble, as he seems to upset those his boss is trying to make deals with.

Gao is a schemer with big plans to support in style his girlfriend Ying (Hsu Kuei-ying) and their baby: he plans to set up a gambling casino in Taiwan, a restaurant and disco in Shanghai, and he’s in on a hustle to make a dishonest buck in a shady country land deal with a government Co-op and landowners to resell mislabeled sows as stud pigs back to the government for more money than they are worth, all so he can get more security in order to marry his girlfriend. He regularly talks on his cell phone with crooked politicians on the mainland, but fails to engineer a deal as they want too much of a kickback.

There’s nothing new that the director has to say about these low-level types. The director has covered the same modern Taiwan problems in other films from a historical perspective, but the beauty in this realistic film is in the unique way Hou Hsiao-hsien gives the viewer time to observe without bias the gestures, the bravado, the hip-hop dress, the inherent violence among the group of losers who are the featured players. In one revealing scene, Gao throws up in the restaurant bathroom and weakly confesses to his girlfriend all his failures and lack of direction, his fears of the future, his money woes, and all the pressures he’s under because of his need to succeed. Everything he does ends in failure, as he thinks that he always needs another plan to keep going on or else he will die.

Flathead has the bad sense to always be looking for a fight and eventually gets his gang in hot water with gangsters in the south who are connected to big-time gangsters. The gang, who feel best when riding their motorbikes and traveling on trains and cars, have put all their faith in their materialistic philosophy. But they now find themselves forced to deal with a double-talking politician who brokers a deal to get them out of their jam with big-time gangsters.

It’s a critique on modern Taiwanese society and their hurried lifestyle, which seems to be taking them nowhere.

The gang’s main problem seemed to be in their inability to have a sense of purpose and their need to always be going someplace without looking back to the past for help in finding the right direction. For the director, that seems to be a mistake and a way that will leave them without any memories to guide them as they try to fit into a society that also has forgotten its past–as he seems to be talking through the gangsters about the faults of modern Taiwan society.

REVIEWED ON 10/23/2001 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”