In this rural town, with a river running through it and one railway station to service the whole community, the local schoolchildren like to chase the train on their way to school, then assembly calls and they all group for registration. But today there is interesting news for one class: their teacher tells them she will be leaving the school because her husband has taken a position in Indonesia, therefore a replacement has been called for. He is Da-Nian (Kenny Bee), the leaving tutor's brother, and he will be arriving on that train soon. The kids are suitably intrigued...
Arthouse darling Hou Hsiao-Hsien began his directing career guiding three vehicles for Taiwanese pop idol Kenny Bee, of which this was the last - after this was a huge success in its native land, he was able to plough his own furrow and follow his muse for the rest of his filmography. If you are a fan of his carefully crafted drama, then these early movies may come as something of a shock, as they were shamelessly commercial in concept and results, not something you could accuse the works he made following Green Green Grass of Home of being. But his dedicated fans would be curious.
Whether they would be satisfied is another matter, as this was extremely lightweight stuff, pandering to the local audience who wanted to see Kenny as a loveably goofy, yet still goodhearted and attractive, young man (though oddly he did not do a whole lot of singing, in spite of his day job as just that). So don't expect any tumultuous emotions running through this (and no Tom Jones singing either), no matter that it featured one of the schoolboys losing faith in his father thanks to the old man's divorce from his mother, and even more shamefully, his habit of fishing by electrocuting the fish to death.
In a public information message kind of way, this warning any potential (or current) fish-electrocutors that what they were doing was bad the for environment and a social and legal problem was the main reason for thus film's existence, judging by the importance the script placed on it, sort of like if a very special episode kids' cartoon contained an anti-smoking, or even anti-drugs, message. If you didn't mind being lectured, then you may find elements to enjoy about this, the sympathy was obviously with the (frankly somewhat shrill) children and their new teacher, so it was by and large sickeningly wholesome, though you could detect the hand of the director in the manner these characters were observed - well, just about.
Nevertheless, some of what passed for entertainment in Green Green Grass of Home was heavily specific to Taiwan, and would take some culture shock explanation to Western audiences. For example, at one point the pupils are ordered to bring back their own stool samples to class the next day, collecting them in containers that give rise to various would-be comic vignettes: you would not have had that in the average episode of Grange Hill, never mind Goodbye, Mr Chips. Sequences such as that had local appeal, as did pretty much all of the rest of it, and only the late on melodrama of the fish killer's son running away from home provided anything like a conventional set of circumstances. This left the film as a minor effort almost exclusively of interest to fans of Hou, and even then they would not find what they enjoyed about his later efforts to be had here, not to the same degree, anyway.
[This is available in the Eureka triple-film Blu-ray box set Early Hou Hsiao-Hsien: Three Films 1980-1983. The other films are Cute Girl and The Boys from Fengkuei. Those features you can expect:
Limited Edition O-card [2000 copies First Print Run Only]
1080p presentations of all three films, across two Blu-ray discs
Uncompressed LPCM audio
Optional English subtitles
Video essays on all three films by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López
A collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Phillip Kemp.]