Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Millenium Mambo – Review

Why is it that Hou Hsiao Hsien fans are always such dicks? After seeing Millenium Mambo I went online in an attempt to gauge the popular reaction to this film and the audience seemed evenly split between those who found the film boring (fair enough) and pretentious cocks whose reviews spent as much time insulting those who “clearly didn’t get it” as kissing the filmmaker’s ass. Dissing Kill Bill in a review that has nothing to do with it is soooo 2003…

That said, Millenium Mambo is an excellent film and in my opinion all one needs to truly enjoy it is a healthy sense of patience and an appreciation for the fast paced disaffected lifestyle of today’s youth. While I honestly did not like the previous Hou film I’d seen (1985’s A Time to Live, A Time to Die) due to it’s pacing and rural storyline; the urban rush of Taipei proves an excellent counterpoint to Hou’s distantiated and (let’s face it) slow style. While the takes are as long as ever with the camera moving in elaborately precise ways, flashing lights and fidgety characters keep things interesting most of the way through. As far as a plot, the film is based around a series of scenes that while not directly link, show us moments in the life of Vicky, a young uneducated Taiwanese girl who’s stuck in an abusive relationship with a speed smoking boyfriend. While there’s no “story” being told, we gradually realize the sadness and emptiness of her life as she tries to pick the pieces up and make something of herself after years in a void. Some have noted that Hou casts the judgmental eye of an older generation upon the material and certainly the lifestyle isn’t glamorized and the characters are criticized; but the material is still handled with sensitivity and no easy answers are given. Hou’s film is closer to a universal criticism of unhealthy relationships and lives than a specific indictment of Taiwanese urban youth, though it is still the view of an outsider looking in. The film’s success however, comes not only from its content but also the way it’s treated. Where so many films attempt to capture disaffection, most end up as melodramatic mush, dramatizing everyday life. Millenium Mambo’s almost voyeuristic approach however, allows us to simply observe the proceedings rather than engage in them full tilt, an unusual way to approach loud House music, drugs and promiscuous youth. Seeing such an effective representation of the subject on screen reminded me that so many directors in Quebec try to capture the feeling of the times in Plateau Films (named after the neighborhood) but fail by trying to turn it into a populist narrative. I wish this film would get screened here more often seeing as it’s a fresh look at subject that matter that’s been glossed over one to many times around here.

Millenium Mambo hasn’t turned me into an all out Hou Hsiao Hsien fan, but it’s made me want to see at least most of his later work. Certainly his approach is difficult and uncompromised and is somewhat harsher than what I’ve seen from his contemporaries Edward Yang and Tsai-Ming Liang; but it’s no less effective when in the right mood. As for the film itself, it is definitely recommended though as always, with a warning.

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