Hou Hsiao-hsien's newest film Flight of the Red Balloon opened in NYC yesterday and is scheduled to make a Landmark Theater appearance here soon. First reports about this film surfaced at last year's Cannes Film Festival, ridiculously lumping it together with Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights (the other Asian director working outside his home territory.) Hou's film is the first in a series of films commissioned by the Musée d'Orsay to celebrate its 20th anniversary. (Each film will star Juliette Binoche and must feature the Musée d'Orsay is some way. Other directors to participate are Jim Jarmusch, Oliver Assayas and Raul Ruiz.)
Flight of the Red Balloon is inspired by Albert Lamorisse's 1956 classic The Red Balloon (which I feel totally stupid for missing when they played it at the Oak Street last fall.) Hou's last film was the elegant Three Times, but Flight seems to bare the most semblance to his 2004 film Cafe Lumiere. Whereas Cafe Lumiere was shot in Japan, his first film shot outside Taiwan, Flight was shot entirely in France. More importantly, Flight seems to mirror Cafe Lumiere's unassuming concerns of individuals, in this case a mother and son and a nanny, against a much larger backdrop, in this case is Paris.
The big news in Flight of the Red Balloon seems to be Binoche's performance which goes against the grain of her typical romantic/quiet/introspective beauty. In this case, Binoche plays a wing-nut single mom, Suzanne, whose volatile personality is displayed in the trailer. The character of Suzanne was apparently a collaboration between Hou's vision and Binoche's innovation. Hou has always been a director willing to give over to actor's instincts or ideas.
I have been a fan of Hou Hsiao-hsien's ever since I was allowed to ride on the back of the train in the opening scene of Goodbye South Goodbye. I have since been able to see most of his films (save a few from the 80s, most notably Daughter of the Nile and The Green Green Grass of Home) and I have yet to be disappointed. As a matter many of the images and scenes of his films have stuck with me. The anticipation for Flight of the Red Balloon is enough, but to make things even sweeter, Hou has announced that his next film will be a wushu film starring Shu Qi and Chang Chen. I can't wait!