Daughter of the Nile (1987)

Review #1,273

Director:  Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Cast:  Yang Lin, Jack Kao, Chen Shu-Fang, Li Tian-Lu
Plot:  A teenage girl, Hsiao-yang, lives with her family on the outskirt of Taipei City.  The uncertain and transient nature of life bewilders and frustrates her.  Sometimes, she would imagine that the characters and stories in the Japanese manga, 'Crest of the Royal Family', are vaguely linked with her own realities.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  91min
Rating:  NC16 for some coarse language.
Source:  Taiwan Film Institute

Screened in 35mm as part of the ‘Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’ retrospective at the National Museum of Singapore.

This is such a rare film, non-existent on home video even.  It is impossible to get hold, and the only chance to see it is on the big screen on a 35mm film print. 

Released in 1987, Daughter of the Nile is also one of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s lesser-known films, sandwiched between two sets of trilogies that have come to mark the Taiwanese filmmaker as one of the most important figures to emerge in ‘80s world cinema – the ‘coming-of-age’ trilogy with films such as A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, a Time To Die (1985) and Dust in the Wind (1986), and the ‘historical’ trilogy comprising of such esteemed works as A City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993) and Good Men, Good Women (1995). 

Perhaps it is for this reason, and the lack of opportunity to see Daughter of the Nile that has resulted in it being seemingly disregarded in Hou’s filmography.  In an attempt to move away from the more film festival-esque type of dramas of the first trilogy and make a more mainstream movie, Hou casts popular Taiwanese singer Yang Lin in the lead role as Hsiao-Yang, a young lady who attends morning classes, and works part-time at Kentucky Fried Chicken after school. 

In her spare time, she takes care of her younger sister, and lends money to her brother (played by Jack Kao in his first of many Hou films) to pay off bad debts that he and his circle of friends have suffered starting a modest restaurant and mixing with gangs. 

With its more gritty aesthetic and hard-hitting reality, Daughter of the Nile marks a shift from nostalgia for the countryside to portraying youth alienation amid a modernizing Taiwan in what appears to be a prelude to such works as Goodbye, South, Goodbye (1996) and Millennium Mambo (2001). 

Occasionally, an accompanying narration on the world of a manga character (from ‘Crest of the Royal Family’) that is the basis of the film's title (and Hsiao-Yang's only 'escape' from her real world) is being heard.  This doesn't quite mesh well overall, and the epilogue doesn't quite provide an emotional tonal closure, which would have worked better if the recurring title song, rather than the opening music, was used instead.

While Daughter of the Nile suggests a weaker grasp of his material, one cannot deny that it is a minor overlooked gem, and worth a shot if you happen to chance upon it.

Verdict:  This is one of Hou’s rarest films, but while it suggests a weaker grasp of his material, it is still worth a shot. 


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