Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 23, 2022 10:48 pm 
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Back in a dazzling 4K restoration from Metrograph


It's back, it's gorgeous, and I'm seeing it for the first time, which is like seeing a Wong Kar-wai film fresh: a dream come true. It had me from the opening frames of a beautiful, long-haired woman walking away down a long kind of tunnel, hair flowing, waving a long cigarette, looking back.


It's about a teenage Taipei bar-girl, Vicky (Shu Qi) who's going nowhere, she has an abusive boyfriend (Tuan Chun-Hao) who steals and does drugs, they live in a dump of a little flat, and everything is bathed in pastel light. And the kids, who're young, are good-looking.

What does it mean? J. Hoberman has written a new piece about it for the Times: "not only the most pop movie the great Taiwanese filmmaker has ever made but, intermittently, among the most astonishingly beautiful."" Sordid yet transcendent, bathed in neon haze and set to a relentless techno-beat. . ."

"The movie marked his entry into contemporary territory occupied by two of his younger admirers, the filmmakers Olivier Assayas and Wong Kar-wai." (Is he following his own admirers?). Well, not quite. This is a new bored , angry generation, and it's not France or Hong Kong but Taiwan. We feel the difference.

"His frequent cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping-bin, had just shot Wong’s “In the Mood For Love,” and he reprised its voluptuous imagery. . . " "The cramped, cruddy apartment. . . is a perfumed miasma."

At the hostess bar, Vicky acquires "a sometime protector, a benign gangster with a Buddhist streak (Hou regular Jack Kao)."

Time spins around, and is made soothing, confusing, and hypnotic by Vicky's breathy voiceover narration, which sometimes recounts events, like the police discovering that her boyfriend has stolen his father's Rolex and pawned it, before they enact onscreen. The voiceover makes what might have been a neurotic "case history" become a "ballad."

Maggie Cheung had originally been Hou's choice to play Vicky,. Shu Qi is less subtle, but makes the film stronger. It's shocking, none more so when there's a sudden jump cut from the little apartment to Vicky's bare butt over the bar.

There also she meets half-Japanese brothers who say she's welcome to visit them on Hokkaido. There are mysterious excerpts of her and them playing in deep snow on Hokkaido: reality or dream?

The hard to please Derek Elley, then still reviewing for Variety, called it "a slow, empty, over-mannered snoozer." The Boston critic wrote that if this was the only chance you'll get to see Hou Hsaio-hsien's work in a movie theater, "you better take it." This may be "a resolutely minor work," as Scott Tobias of AV Club wrote, but what is a "minor work" by a major artist? It's an invaluable gem.

Millennium Mambo, 119 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes in 2001. It played at two dozen major international festivals and opened theatrically in New York 31 December 2003, and it was the first by Hou to get a national US release. Opens Dec. 23, 2022 in new 4K restoration at Metrograph, Manhattan;


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