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Taipei. A voice off-camera looks back ten years to 2000, when Vicky was in an on-again off-again relationship with Hao-Hao. She's young, lovely, and aimless. He's a slacker. Cigarettes and alcohol fuel her nights. We see bits of her life: when Hao-Hao steals his father's Rolex and the police detain them; when she gets a job as a club hostess, where she meets Jack, who becomes her patron and protector; when Hao-Hao comes to the club, insisting on talking to her; when she visits Yubari, Japan, for its film festival in the dead of winter; when Jack must go to Japan to straighten out trouble caused by one of his acolytes. Does Vicky have any expectations? Does time simply pass? Written by
I'm sick and tired of reading complaints from people that this film (as well as most of Hou Hsiao-hsien's others) are too boring, impersonal, detached, plotless, etc. Generally speaking, people don't just casually walk into one of Hou's films; chances are, if you go and see one, you already know basically what to expect -- which is, more or less, the polar opposite of Hollywood-style filmmaking. That said, Hou's films are among the most artful, innovative, breathtaking, and purely cinematic (in the absolute best sense of the word) made today, and Millennium Mambo is certainly no exception. In fact, I would even rank it as one of Hou's five best films (along with Flowers of Shanghai, Goodbye South, Goodbye, The Puppetmaster, and A Time to Live and a Time to Die).
The film is exquisitely photographed by Mark Li Ping-bin, whose camera here is even more hypnotically mobile than usual, and -- perhaps to an even greater extent than in any of Hou's previous features -- takes on an ambiguously voyeuristic role. There are scenes in Millennium Mambo that are among the most haunting and beautiful in, not only Hou's cinema, but in all modern world cinema. The opening voice-over sequence (that calls to mind the best voice-over work from the films of Wong Kar-wai and Terrence Malick), the scene where Vicky lies in bed with the window reflection of the untuned television sumperimposing the passing trains behind her, and the scene set amidst the snowdrifts are probably the finest examples, but there are countless others, as well. Shu Qi is positively luminous in the film's central role. Her performance is, at times, even reminiscent of those by Anna Karina, Liv Ullman, and Monica Vitti for Godard, Bergman, and Antonioni, respectively. The supporting performers (especially Jack Kao) are also superb.
As you can probably guess, I love Hou Hsiao-hsien and Millennium Mambo. I will be the first to concede, however, that his films are decidedly not for all tastes. They are usually very deliberately-paced, sometimes require knowledge of Asian (almost always Taiwanese) history (which means - god forbid - research for most viewers), and never feel in the slightest like Hollywood product. Now you've been warned. If this doesn't sound appealing or entertaining to you, then go watch Pearl Harbor. But if it does, I highly recommend that you check out Millennium Mambo (as well, as Hou's other films - all of which are genuinely worthwhile).
My rating: 10/10
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