the point of slouching through Fin de siècle Taipei if you do not indulge in a
little hedonism? Unfortunately, that seems to be the best life can offer one lost
beauty. She will find far more consolation in artificial stimulants and
pounding club music than from her spectacularly unhealthy lover in Hou
Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo (trailer here), which screens
tomorrow at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery in Washington, DC.
is a stunning beauty, but she has made some terrible choices, such as getting
involved with Hao-hao, an emotional abusive deadbeat. She would like to make a
clean break from him, but every time she tries, he keeps coming back, worming
into her life and living space once again. However, when Vicky lets Jack, a
mid-level gangster, serve as her sugar-daddy she might finally be well rid of
Hao-hao. Nevertheless, do not expect a happy ending for their apparently
Mambo’s opening shot of
Vicky walking through a somewhat sketchy looking pedestrian bridge is a visual
tour-de-force with all the iconic sexuality of Marilyn Monroe’s subway vent encounter,
but infused with a potent sense of menace. Unfortunately, the rest of the film
lacks the same level of pop. While Hou’s anesthetized vibe is a deliberate
strategy that sort of works, his temporal shifts are not clearly delineated.
Still, Vicky’s dispassionate narration, told from the vantage point of ten
years in the future, is eerily disconcerting. It almost sounds as if she were
whispering from the graveyard, even though there is no reason to believe she
will not bounce back from her setbacks, landing on her feet or what-have-you.
films give viewers such intimate knowledge of its characters, yet somehow we
never really feel we understand who they truly are. Of course, that is the
whole point. Despite her inscrutability, Shu Qi holds viewers’ attention in a
vice-lock. It is not just her ethereal beauty. We can see there is something
dramatic brewing in her eyes, we just can’t tell what. As Hao-hao, Tuan
Chun-hao makes a contemptible character strangely forgettable, but the steely
gravitas of Jack Kao’s namesake at least gives Shu Qi some memorable support during
the third act.
is very definitely a product of its hipster millennial time. By now, the
combination of its dreamy neon visuals and driving electronica already feels a
little dated. Still, the film’s evocative nocturnal look is a prime example why
Mark Lee Ping-bin is considered one of the world’s foremost cinematographers.
It is hardly perfect, but it is still quite worth seeing, if only for Shu Qi’s
seductively raw performance. It should also help tide over fans as we wait and
hope for The Assassin, Hou’s first
wuxia film, naturally starring Shu Qi. Recommended for those who appreciate Hou’s
more rarified art-house releases, Millennium
Mambo screens (for free) tomorrow (12/21), at the Freer Gallery in DC.
Labels: Hou Hsiao Hsien, Shu Qi, Taiwanese Cinema