The joy of people watching. That's what Hou Hsaio-Hsien's movies are about at their core. His movies have been called minimalist, meditative, slow, boring, and many other things. But he pretty much takes the same languid approach to all of his work, and I find him fascinating. His stories may change, but the feel is the same. You know you're going in to see a Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie and know what you're gonna get. Impeccably framed shots, whether inside homes, in the countryside, or even in the bustling city. His movies are gorgeously filmed, even when they're not extravagant.
Cafe Lumiere, Hou's first movie outside his native Taiwan, is a tribute piece in honor of the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, whose Tokyo Story is often cited as one of the best movies ever made. It concerns things important to Ozu, like the subtle clash between the new and old, children and parents, and also trains. There are a LOT of trains in this movie. We follow our heroine as she goes home to visit her parents, informing them that she's pregnant and steadfastly refusing to marry the father, something that would've been unheard of to anyone of her parents generation. But the story is never the star in a Hou movie, the long, slow takes and deliberate pacing are.
Which brings me back to the joy of people watching. There are those of us who enjoy becoming a momentary voyeur in big crowded areas and watching people who don't know we're watching them, for no reason other than to see what they do. I find myself performing a much more intimate version of this when watching Hou's movies. It's like we've been dropped into these peoples often unexciting lives (just like our generally unexciting lives) and we watch them live. Something about it gets me every time. Or at least every time I'm in the mood. Watching a Hou movie when you're not in the mood for slowly paced, unconventional, movies will bore you to tears before the 30 minute mark is up. But if the circumstances are right, and you're in the mood. I find few filmmakers more consistently watchable than Hou.