Thursday, September 08, 2005

Millennium Mambo (Hou, 2001)

Millennium Mambo is the kind of film that draws to a close before you realize that it ever really got started. Director Hou Hsiao-hsien explains in an interview on the DVD that he didn’t want his film to have too much plot or for the plot to be too obvious. He’s succeeded. Perhaps too much so. The opening of the film is very promising, as we see a very long shot of the central character, Vicky (Shu Qi), walking purposefully down the sidewalk, as we viewers gleefully tag along behind her. This, we think, must be a woman worth knowing. She has beauty, confidence and attitude. She must be a character with a tale to tell. Not really. Hou is content to give us some information about Vicky via voice-over, place her in some mildly dramatic situations and then observe. The decision to use numerous long takes is admirable and could possibly have allowed the actors involved to create something memorable. However, too often, we are subjected to long sections of Vicky thinking … something. Her estranged boyfriend makes some moves on her. She rebuffs him. And then goes back to thinking … about something.

Films don’t necessarily have to be plot-driven, as long as there is a compelling thematic exploration. In my opinion, Millennium Mambo falls short in this area as well. What is the film’s purpose? I couldn’t tell you. With several references to American influence (KISS, the U.S. Army, Las Vegas), I thought possibly that Vicky and her situation -- it would be inaccurate to call it a ‘journey’ -- was intended to mirror Taiwan’s search for national identity. If this is indeed the case, the themes are merely broached and certainly not explored to a satisfactory degree. With the ever-present pulsing club music that underscores Millennium Mambo, my last gasp at trying to pinpoint the filmmaker’s goals is to suggest that Hou intended merely to create a ‘mood’ film. A film that paints a picture of a woman at a certain point in time, experiencing a certain set of emotions. If so, I can only state that I did not find it to be terribly gripping cinema. On the contrary, it is sort of like saying, “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, but melancholy woman, with an unsatisfying life and a good-for-nothing boyfriend ….. The End.”



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