Fascinating and profoundly beautiful, Daughter of the Nile (1987) bridges the second and third phases of director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s career and showcases for the first time the formal sophistication and audio-visual design that would bring him global notoriety throughout the 1990s and beyond. Daughter of the Nile centres around Lin Hsiao-yang (portrayed by pop star Lin Yang), a waitress in a fried chicken restaurant who yearns for a petty criminal and increasingly finds herself running a household without any help from the deadbeat males in her circle. Lin finds respite by retreating into the fantasy world of the Japanese comic book series Crest of the Royal Family.
Hou intended to return to commercial filmmaking, resulting in a beautiful, clinical, and quietly chilling look at an emergent Taiwan beset by class disparity, urban alienation, and rapacious hyper-development. Gambling and petty crime mirror the impersonal cruelty of the profit motive upon which the new urban reality is founded. While the men succumb to psychological dispossession or general inertia, women are pressured to pick up the slack. Daughter of the Nile diverges from the three remarkable Hou films that preceded it, not only on account of the new critical focus on contemporary realities, but even more by virtue of its radical breakthroughs of technique, especially as regards to the use of narrative ellipses, complex blocking, and the use of offscreen space. The tone itself is new. It is the first Hou that feels comprehensively opiated, warmly enveloping, almost amniotic.
-Written by Jason Wierzba