Cute Girl ★★★½

Hou Hsiao-hsien's first film pairs pop stars Kenny Bee and Feng Fei-fei in a totally pleasant and generic romantic comedy. He's poor, she's rich, they fall in love anyway. Tsui Hark's Working Class is a much better version of this premise, and stars Sam Hui. Kenny Bee is the poor man's Sam Hui.

Signs this otherwise unremarkable movie is a Hou Hsiao-hsien film:

An apparently exceptional understanding of the way characters look in space, within their environments and in the film frame. Visual jokes abound, but not pure slapstick (though there is a fair amount of body humor, but rather jokes that only work in a film frame (a false perspective joke about two unrelated people running at each other, the duel on the dune).

The country as contrasted with the city. Both environments minimize the characters: wide open natural spaces and overcrowded urban streets.

The book Feng Fei-fei is reading in the film is Moment in Peking, an English-language historical novel by Lin Yutang from 1939 which had been newly translated and released in Taiwan in 1977. It uses its characters to explore Chinese history from the Boxer Rebellion to the present anti-Japanese war. This wikipedia description could easily apply to many (all) of Hou's later films: "Lin tries not to be overly judgmental of the characters because he recognizes that too many issues were involved in the chaotic years of the early twentieth century China. There are no absolutely right or wrong characters. Each character held a piece of truth and reality and a piece of irrationality. In the preface, Lin writes that "[This novel] is merely a story of... how certain habits of living and ways of thinking are formed and how, above all, [men and women] adjust themselves to the circumstances in this earthly life where men strive but gods rule.""