Vive l’amour

Dir. Tsai Ming-Liang
I had to think if this really was the first Tsai Ming-Liang film I’ve seen.
I don’t count the first 10 minutes of The River I caught on The International Channel after I started taping it (I then misplaced the tape, forgetting to label it). And I don’t count the numerous articles I’ve read on him. I think because I’ve seen many a Hou Hsiao Hsien film and a few Edward Yang films, that I knew in advance how to prepare for Tsai’s films. And I was right.
Like Hou and Yang, Tsai believes in long takes, objective views, elliptical storytelling. He gives you just enough info to keep you going, then near the end of the film you realize you’ve been given so much that you know more than you thought about the characters. (Compare this to many a H’wood film where people blather on and on and by the end of the film we still don’t know who these people are).
Vive l’Amour is a film about three alienated characters in a alienating city (Taipei) trying to connect and finding it hard to do so. The film sets up a early dichotomy between sex and death: the lonely Hsiao Kang (Kang-Sheng Lee) sells columbria (spaces in a crematorium) and when we first meet him he tries to commit suicide; May (Kuei-Mei Yang) sells real estate (big boxes for the living) and when we first meet her she meets and shags a night-market salesman, Ah-Jung (Chao-jung Chen). That these three people are all using this empty space (one of her sale properties) as a temporary location (Hsiao-Kang stole a misplaced key to get in) leads to a strange love triangle (Hsiao is gay and unlike May’s relationship, engages in conversation with Ah-Jung). The movie is full of empty spaces, one-sided conversations, hidden emotions, and lonely distances. The film ends on a daring long take, which demonstrates Yang’s talent as an actress, and how much she trusts the director.
Tsai also has a very subtle sense of humor, and in such a sad and lonely film manages to eak out some laughs (Ah-Jung falling on his ass when he hears somebody coming in the apartment, Ah-Jung later crawling out from under the bed, when the camera placement has us focused on the open doorway).
(Jessica was slightly bored by the film, but perked up in a scene where May eats at a “stinky tofu” stall. We had to stop the film and make some late-night snacks due to it.)
The DVD is by those foul anti-movie brigands Fox Lorber who have been producing careless transfers from many years now. How can one company be so consistently crap, I don’t know. No extras, burned in subtitles, less than crisp image, with some murky black and some artifacts. I wonder if an Asian version would be better?
By the way, there’s a nice essay on Tsai over at Senses of Cinema from which I nicked the photo.

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