The valedictorian oration at the outset ("We are striding into a new journey...") is mirrored in the priest’s preamble at the wedding ("The order of the world starts from the order of the family"), Hou Hsiao-hsien reveals both as nothing more than memorized speeches next to the graceful and thorny opening up of a child’s world. The family is an endangered unit, the mother is bedridden, too weak for surgery; the preteen boy (Wang Chi-Kwang) and his little sister (Sun Cheeng-Lee) are sent to spend the summer in the countryside, a welcome change of rhythm (a vast hospital is the most you see of Taipei). A foretaste of Hou’s style is already felt at the train station: The kids’ uncle is late in chaperoning them, the camera pans left with Wang as he and a friend shout goodbyes across opposite platforms, then pans back to find the uncle ready to board and Sun complaining that she has to pee. The boy’s remote-control toy car mounts a pet tortoise as soon as they reach the village, but nature soon trumps technology as the children adapt to the languid new environment. Their grandparents’ house is from the Ozu Catalog, all planar screens, verandas, and dark wood floors; Grandpa (Koo Chuen) is the town doctor, a scowler who banishes the "black sheep" uncle in a long-shot composition that lasts just long enough to establish swaying plants and a rushing train as co-stars. The "mad woman" is seen first from the vantage point of a kid perched on a tree branch, then through a half-open doorway as she’s seduced by the local bird-catcher -- the adult world, glimpsed by mistake and half-understood. Hou’s epiphanies, revelatory moments that darken the Eden of childhood, drift like a soft breeze as Wang avoids his uncle’s gaze at the police station or Sun lays by the side of the woman whose miscarriage she’s indirectly responsible for. "Time flies. I’m homesick." Summer’s over, a little hope goes back the city’s way. With Mei Wong, Lin Hsiao-ling, Gu Jan, and Edward Yang.
--- Fernando F. Croce