Growing Up (1983)

Review #1,599

Director:  Chen Kun-Hou
Cast:  Chang Chun-Fang, Yen Cheng-Kuo, Doze Niu
Plot:  Story of a boy as recounted by the memory of a woman who recalls the nostalgic past.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won 3 Golden Horses - Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay.  Nom. for 2 Golden Horses - Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor
Runtime:  100 mins
Rating:  PG (passed clean) 
Source:  Central Motion Pictures

Made during the early heights of the Taiwanese New Wave in the early 1980s, Growing Up is one of the key works of the movement which also saw two great masters emerge with breakthrough films in the same year—Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Boys from Fengkuei and Edward Yang’s That Day, on the Beach.  

Chen Kun-Hou is no doubt the less familiar name amongst the trio, but he has been an instrumental figure who helped to shoot several early works of Hou, and in fact, worked as a cinematographer since the early 1970s.  He also doubled as both director and cinematographer in a number of works, including some of his relatively more well-known films like His Matrimony (1985) and Osmanthus Alley (1987).  

Growing Up, of course, is his most famous work, winning Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards that year.  The story follows a young boy, Xiao Bi, whose reticent mother weds an older man with a stable job who could provide for his new family.  The Chinese title of Chen’s film literally translates into “The Story of Xiao Bi”, and as straightforward and seemingly mundane as that sounds, Growing Up’s earnestness as a family drama does give us a sense that Xiao Bi’s story is worth listening to.  

His story is a typical narrative tracing his development from a naughty child to a rebellious teenager at odds with his parents (the older Xiao Bi is played by Doze Niu—who was also in Fengkuei—in what was a breakthrough year for him), but it is recounted from memory by a woman who recollects her experiences with Xiao Bi in and outside of school, giving the film a wistful quality. 

Growing Up may not be as thematically dense as the works that would come out of Taiwan during the ‘80s like Yang’s The Terrorizers (1986) or Hou’s landmark A City of Sadness (1989), but its simplicity—in premise and approach—could be its most everlasting attribute.  It is a slice-of-life capture of the unbridled joys of adolescence, and the infatuations and vices of teenage-hood, while through its coming-of-age tale, life, in its ever-readiness to surprise and shock, is seen with unfiltered clarity.   

Verdict:  A straightforward but earnestly-made drama about what it is like growing up as a child (into a rebellious teenager) in this key Taiwanese New Wave classic.




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