Wednesday, June 6, 2007

millennium mambo

Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001) - 6/10

As she jogs through a blue lit tunnel with a captivating soundtrack playing in the background, the presence of Shu Qi, may compel you from the start. However, it's scenes like this which helps make Millennium Mambo watchable. What this film lacks is any real closure between scenes. Instead, director Hsiao-hsien, crafts his scenes to make them overly long. Characters performing the most mundane actions and daily routines taking up a lot of run time. Three Times, his only other movie I've seen contain elements of this, yet that movie manages to evoke wonder from those scenes. Millennium Mambo, almost feels rugged and raw (yet wonderfully shot), not surprising, considering the content the movie brings. The radiant and bright lights, seen illuminating the screen from Taiwan's underground night life, strikes a balance of tone in colour.

Shu Qi plays Vicky, a women who's life has been torn and somewhat wasted caused by a relationship gone wrong. An abusive, manipulative, and jealous boyfriend, Hao-hao, who deliberately ruined Vicky's education prospects. Fearing she would move on without him, both live together unemployed, and are frequent visitors of a nightclub, and inhabit the world of drugs. The depressing nature of their relationship heightened in a couple scenes, may make it hard to witness for some. Like the way Hao-hao scrutinizes Vicky in an attempt to uncover if she's cheated, by sniffing all over her, with her feeble attempt at annoyance. The anger that may evoke from viewers towards Hao-hao is another strong point the movie delivers.

Narrated by Shu Qi's character herself, in a third person point of view -- 10 years after the fact -- we at least sense some closure and contentment into her distraught life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

the road home

The Road Home (Zhang Yimou, 1999) - 8/10

Why not take that one last path to the road home? Another beautifully told dramatic tale from Zhang Yimou. Opening with black and white moving visuals, The Road Home glances back to the life of a young Di (played by Zhang Ziyi), into a luscious and colourful landscape enveloping a small village. Before elaborating into the past life of Di, we first learn of her husband's passing. Yusheng, Di's son, is realyed the news of the passing, where he leaves the city for the village where Di resdies. By Di's request, she envisions a long tradition of the funeral procession being carried along a road that connect the city to the village. For one last moment, she wants to walk side by side with her husband to the road home.

The story of Di is narrated by her son, Yusheng, as he tries to uncover why fulfilling his mother's request would mean everything to her. The simplicity of Yimou's film -- witnessed in his other poignant film, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles -- uses beautiful imagery to help capture the emotions of the characters and mood. Zhang Ziyi, as the young Di, endures a graceful and innocent look, painted on her face, making it easy for us to care for her character.

Di and Changyu are 18 and 20 years old respectively. Yimou doesn’t forget they are 18 and 20 years old, young and ambitious. Like school kids in love. When Di fetches water from a well, she glances below to see Changyu reaching for the well. Her bucket already filled with water is dumped back into the well. And how does Yimou capture our interest when an elderly man puts together pieces of a broken bowl? The imagery to capture emotion, as we realize the emotional connectivity the bowl has for Di, and her devotion and care into making the perfect meal for Changyu.

The expansion into the character of Changyu could have gone further. After 40 years, what is it about Changyu that has made Di love him after all these years. Is it just the pleasure of hearing his voice? Or the young, blind love that has carried on for 40 years? Di’s devotion to Changyu, who has been strayed away from her in the beginning, makes her character ever more fragile. As the funeral procession to the road home commences, we may not feel emotion for Changyu, but I would think Yimou would like us to sympathize for Changyu through Di.