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|Index||11 reviews in total|
Lee Kang-Sheng's measured somnambulism arrives as a sexual novelty
sapped of eroticism, settles in like a lingering fever dream of
aggressive imagery and departs as an affecting malaise, deepening with
its pervasive languor. Writer-director Lee's second film under the
apprenticeship of his mentor and producer, Tsai Ming-liang, is one of
similar phases and concepts city isolation, sexual disengagement,
spiritual disenchantment, deprivation and drollness. They are also
decorated with similar technical approaches typified by a slow-burning
static camera, recurring motifs and intense flourishes of non-verbal
actions that shock, awe and delight.
But where Tsai's films revel in their metaphoric absences, Lee dwells on superficial excesses in "Help Me Eros". Through a methodical deconstruction of role-playing, desire, delusion and despair, Lee finds absurdity in its most raw and indecent. Taipei's neon-lit streets feel alive yet infected with rot, jangling with vociferousness and temptations with the city's glaring financial risks find salience in the hawking of promises rooted in sexual satisfactions and instant reverie. The mutual nihilism of the city and its decay is seen through an uprooted yuppie, Ah Jie (Lee), once a successful stock trader fell by a bad exchange and now living precariously by pawning his things while crossing and using his repossessed apartment and car.
Ah Jie lives the remainder of his previous life indulging in sexual fantasy and wanton marijuana use that he grows in his closet. Having fallen out of society, desperately in need of validation, calls a suicide hotline and becomes infatuated by the woman who talks to him. The woman, an overweight and depressed Chyi (Jane Liao), forms the film's sadder, parallel story of a deaden society's need to feel something anything to prove that it is still alive. This is where genuine humanity can be sensed behind the lens and through the film's pro forma gratuitously explicit scenes. Ah Jie pursues this joyless tract through acrobatic encounters with scantily clad, drug chasing betelnut salesgirls. The difference lies in the former's need for physical intimacy and the latter's pursuit of ritualistic depersonalisation.
With "Help Me Eros", Lee trades on Tsai's (serving as the set designer) art-house stock here for an appreciate core audience, but the film is bold and intriguing in its own right. The approach remains Tsai's but its glorious conflagration of striking aesthetics and insistent contemplations feel almost quaint and altogether poignant.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, this movie is not for everyone. There's lot of marijuana use and
some fairly graphic (and quite erotic) sex. Basically, if you voted for
President anyone named "Bush", you maybe shouldn't see this movie. I
saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival 2007 and in the
showing a few people (all elderly) did walk out. However, if you have a
liberal sentiment and want to watch a serious adult movie about
depression, sex and love I would strongly recommend it.
The movie seemed to me like cross between Leaving Las Vegas and Last Tango in Paris. As in Leaving Las Vegas, it's about a man who's lost everything and appears bent on killing himself but in this case with pot instead of booze. However, as with Last Tango, he also uses sex as an escape from the emptiness of his life. Unlike either movie, he has also been calling a help line. Unfortunately, what may have been a genuine reaching-out for help is tainted by his sexual fantasies and he begins to develop an attraction to the counselor who has been helping him and they begin a non-professional personal email exchange. He has no idea she is overweight. The director also lets us into the counselor's life which is almost as sad. She's married to a chef who has deliberately led her into obesity by cooking exotic fatty dishes, apparently with the intention of detracting her from sex for reasons best discovered watching the film. In an incredibly sad scene she bathes with a tub full of eels (which I assume the husband had for cooking) to achieve sexual excitement.
The director makes us feel as sorry for the women who cared about him as much as the man himself. Obviously to show that his life had value which in his depressed state he doesn't feel. The director doesn't sensationalize the sex and drug use, but he also didn't make it repulsive. He had the courage to show the attraction of sex and drugs so you would then feel how empty his life still was after indulging.
This is a Taiwanese movie, so I do not know how available it will be in North America. I can only hope you get a chance to see this sad, courageous and fascinating film.
This is indeed an excellent film, featuring compelling characters,
powerful images and memorable situations. The dreamlike aspect of the
film reminds me in many respects of 'Mauvais Sang.' Admirers of that
film will find much to savor here.
One correction to the first comment offered above: the city that 'stars' in the film is not Taipei, but Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung. Many of the scenes were filmed on the banks and bridges of Love River. This setting resonates with the tale: the characters we see are living their lives at the opposite end of the island from Taipei, the capital city that features so prominently in the news reports. We are far from the centers of power and upscale sophisticates--yet a river called Love flows on, right outside our doors.
I watched this film in a packed auditorium at the 2008 Istanbul
International Film Festival, and what amazed me was that there was not
a single audible laugh throughout the entire thing. The reason this was
amazing is that the movie is, in parts, truly hilarious. Perhaps
because the feel and movement of the production is so realistic, and
there are long sequences of no dialogue, the audience didn't know what
it was watching. Also, because the movie has a lot of fairly explicit
sex scenes and lots of marijuana smoking, some people were likely
shocked. On one side of me sat a middle-aged woman who was evidently
there with her daughter. The woman shook her head and put her hand to
her mouth several times, and might have got up to leave if she hadn't
had to climb over several laps to get out.
The story follows a pot-smoking protagonist who has apparently fallen on hard times recently. He lives in a multi-floor apartment in Taipei that must be rather grand by the standards of Taiwan, but he's lost a lot of money in the stock market and now has to start selling his household goods to finance his pot habit. He's a small man in his mid- to late-thirties', and his girlfriend has recently left him. A few of the scenes of him stoned at home by himself are very funny. In one scene he is talking to (presumably) his ex-girlfriend on the phone while a kettle is boiling. He keeps walking back into the kitchen to take the kettle off the range and make it stop whistling, then going back in and putting it back on the burner, clearly having just forgotten why he took it off in the first place. People who have never experienced the effects of marijuana will not understand the humor, probably. In another scene he's watching a program on TV in which a fish is being prepared for some kind of traditional dish. The fish is scaled and gutted but is somehow still alive when served on the plate (a 'delicacy'). You can see the fish's mouth opening and closing in an obscene gaping motion, as our hero clutches a pillow and stares horrified and motionless at the screen.
He has an instant messenger chat partner he has never met. His chat name is "Marihuana is God," hers is "Little Cookie." Little Cookie is one of the main characters but she is fat, largely because her husbandevidently a professional cookcooks sumptuous dishes for her all the time at home. He long ago lost interest in her physically, and when a male guest comes to stay, she understands that the two of them are carrying on together. She develops an online attachment to Marihuana is God, but the protagonist is busy luring young, attractive hookers to his apartment, getting them stoned, and having gangbangs with them. One of the hookers actually starts to become attached to him, then is heartbroken when he only cares about getting stoned and having it off with any of the girls at the "hooker depot" where he originally picked her up.
The value of this film, which is not high, is that it gives a vision of Taipei street life: strange, brightly-lit little kiosk-type shops where escort girls in see-thru skirts and hooker outfits sell cigarettes and other conveniences all night; credit hotline agencies where row upon row of girls in cubicles answer calls from the hordes of debtors in Taiwanese society; vans with screens on three sides broadcasting lottery news and results. It is ultimately a highly depressing image but it nevertheless feels real in its nihilism, and its examination of how debts and gambling affect Oriental societies more severely than Western ones. For anyone who wants a look at Taipei, this is worth a look. Otherwise this movie is just another post-post-modern slice of super-depression, depression that is not negated by all the laughs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Subdued is an acronym for the following: Strange, Ugly, Beautiful, Depressing, Upsetting, Erotic, Decisive. I saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival with Lee Kang Sheng in attendance. He called it a slow moving film and, if you've ever seen his films as an actor in Tsai Ming Liang's movies, you'd understand what he means. However, this movie (which Tsai Ming Liang executive produced) is not at a glacial pace. The main story is about Shen's character, an unemployed suicidal man who has been calling a suicide helpline. A parallel story is of a television chef who specializes in exotic cooking, who plies his overweight, sexually frustrated wife with the foods he cooks on television. In other words, that is the extent of their relationship now. There is excessive loneliness in this film. Kang Sheng's character also grows marijuana in his apartment and this helps garner the attention of hostess girls who are working in a bar below his apartment. To a one, the ladies are all young and sexy. The wife of the chef, it turns out, works at the suicide helpline, so there is the connection between her and Kang Sheng's character. Like many of Ming Liang's films, the city of Taipei is a co-star, ultra modern, detached and noisy. There are scenes which are darkly comic, thought provoking and sad. This movie affected me greatly. I felt for this man trying to rise out of the depths of despair. Not for the faint of heart, but if you're a fan of Tsai Ming Liang & Lee Kang Sheng, this is essential viewing.
This is in my opinion an excellent movie. I will start by its cinematic
qualities, which in my opinion should always come first when reviewing
a movie, and then extend into contents and general feel.
The direction and photography are amazing. I've seen some bold attempts at making sexual sequences into art, but rarely have I seen such great achievement as in this movie. The use of colors, patterns, shades and glitter, is superb. I find the acting excellent as well. The soundtrack compliments the images adoringly and finds its climax at the music video-like sequences that emerge as marijuana visions with simple mellow songs that do shine, unfolding all the emotional tension that has been gathered throughout our incursion into this bleak urban universe we've dived into... A faithful portrait of contemporary contradictions in human society interlocked with the everlasting themes of the pursuit of pleasure, love, momentary relief and loss of purpose.
On second notes I would add that this movie brings an excellent opportunity to have a first look at Taiwan's most exotic cuisine...
In the end this comes as a strong movie (emotionally violent) whose thematic is well developed and as an artistic experience perfectly accomplished.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems you have to understand Taiwan to be able to "get" this movie.
Perhaps there's the relationship between the city of Kaohsiung vs
Taipei; maybe Kaohsiungnese feel they do all the dirty work and Taipei
reaps all the glamor. I dunno.
Then there's the scene in a restaurant with the river in the background. How do we get the irony of him stalking who he thinks is the love of his life, if we don't know that the river is called the Love river?
And how do the Kaohsiangnese feel about the empty, abandoned Dream Mall? Just another failed business prospect or the symbol of their fear of helplessness/loneliness?
How do Taiwanese feel about eel? The same way an American feels about chicken? OK, just kidding on this one ^_^
Is there a significance to someone eating in front of restaurant board that shows the picture of a cobra?
What were the papers raining down? Lottery papers? Stocks/ company shares receipts? Does it signify what I think it signifies? >Never mind, I read Aaron Mannino's review< *_*
The movie has some great shots; the 2 grannies window-shopping stocks, the river as seen from the restaurant, the plantation, the scene where the husband and his friend were dressing with a red painting as a backdrop, the lonely pot of "weed" that now looks just like weed, symbolizing his descent, the brilliant ^_^ billiard scene, the brilliant but icky eel in the bathtub scene :-p
Watch it on a large screen so you can enjoy the scenes.
Gorgeous. I was just expecting more Tsai Ming Liang super-freaky
alienation porn, full of campy soul music interjections, but this was
surprisingly emotional and ethereal. Unlike Antonini and even Tsai (his
mentor) actor turned director Kang-sheng Lee understands expressing
alienation doesn't mean every environment must be cold, dreary, and
colorless. The world of "Help Me Eros" is neon lit from start to finish
like a minimalist version of Coppola's "One From The Heart" with every
frame worthy of being hung in a museum. The bright colors of Lee's
world are indeed beautiful but they create a fake rainbow, like the
manufactured brightness of a red-light district.
A stockbroker lost all of his money for reasons that are never disclosed, sits in his apartment "Leaving Los Vegas" style watching his world fall apart one trip to the pawn shop at a time. He smokes joints constantly and tends his marijuana plants growing his closet, the only living things in his apartment. He calls a suicide hotline, where he has feelings and fantasies for a specific operator and the two begin communicating via email.
This woman and her life with her chef husband who feeds her exotic animals like Ostrich and Eel to distract her from their non-existent sex life, forms the main sub-plot as these two lonely souls seek connection. In between this our hero falls in lust with several girls who sell some kind of nuts outside of his building in enticing outfits to attract repeat clients/johns. There are two sex scenes, neither as graphic or as numerous as Wayward Cloud's or Nine Song's, and both arising within a context of the story, not as just a rhythmic "device" or stylistic detour. The music far from being inorganic to the script, is pulsating electronic or soothingly acoustic and vulnerable, each underscoring the specific emotions of longing, regret, exhilaration, and emptiness that the rest of the film echoes.
Shots of standing in a moving car through the sun roof as the city flood by in a blur, of beautiful Tai girls lounging around a neon lobby like cat's on a hot day, and a disturbing but tasteful bathtub full of eels, linger and don't dislodge themselves from memory easily. Kang-sheng Lee's themes are not original, but his delivery is immaculate, his fantasies genuinely erotic(something Tsai's stilted humping though more naturalistic rarely achieves, or seeks to), and his art design courteousy of Tsai himself, a joy for the eyes.
Searching for affection and finding only sex, waiting for the sun and seeing only halogen and strobe, sitting in a deserted cafe in front of a River called "Love River"(according to an observant IMDb writer from Indonesia) and trying not to appear lonely, have rarely seemed so convincing or heartfelt. Like Movern Callar, the film is not the plot, but the sensual accumulations of sights and sounds, that drown the viewer like a warm bath. Dryly deadpan, minimal dialog, glowing with life, and cinematic daring, "Help Me Eros", would along with "Wayward Cloud" serve as perfect introductions to Taiwan's burgeoning avant garde aesthetics, which if you are not familiar with you need to see for yourself.
I've got to admit that while I find it difficult to enjoy the works of
Tsai Ming-liang and his protégé Lee Kang-sheng, there's still something
about it that still draws me to their movies, perhaps in a determined
attempt to try and cut through the usual droning of themes like
alienation and loneliness, to discover if there's anything else that I
could connect to and hang on for the duration of the movie. I thought
I'd find something here, but unfortunately it degenerated into
something quite messy midway, before some redemption in the finale
afforded some relief.
Telling the story of Ah Jie, Lee himself plays the protagonist who in a stroke of a bear market, was reduced to a pauper, having his assets like his home and car impounded by the authorities. Does it deter him? Of course not, as he still goes back to the pound to drive away his vehicle, and continues to ignore the seal outside his apartment. He sells his belongings in an effort to try and raise whatever little cash he can, and in his idle time, he tends to his high-grade homegrown marijuana plants, which he cultivates and smokes to get high in his own little escapism from the hardships of life.
In an attempt to connect, he befriends plenty of betel-nut beauties (one played by Yin Shin as Shin), and stalks whom he thinks is Chyi, a lady he got to know from his calls to a sex-chat hotline, allowing him to fantasize about the hot chick with the hot voice. It's really quite pathetic though, because I thought it's always ironic that hot voices over a telephone line belong to someone other than can be labelled shallowly with the term "hot". Or at least Help Me Eros plays along this line of generalization. The betel-nut beauties on the other hand, is a trade that follows the mantra of skimpier clothes leading to better patronage, and some 10 years ago when I was in Taiwan, this is a phenomenon that's quite true, as you pass by booths set up along highways, and these ladies in their various state of undress, try to entice you for a stop to get your regular packet of cigarettes, or to get into the habit of chewing the equivalent of gum.
But this is not just a story about Ah Jie, as the real Chyi (played by Jane Liao) is the other character placed under the spotlight. She's horizontally challenged, no thanks to the various delicacies that her cook husband Ah Rong (Dennis Nieh) concocts as part of his television food programme. And indeed, it is this portion of the movie that I found much more intriguing, as it was almost documentary like. There were some nicely down parallels between how the food was prepared and designed, and the state of the characters. Like when we're introduced to Ah Jie, we see a live fish being slaughtered in an inhumane manner, clobbered in the head, before having its body cut out, and when presented on the plate, it's still bloody alive, gasping for air. I can't imagine anyone having the stomach to eat it, and this desperation in staying alive, prepares us for Ah Jie's character who is at wits end.
Chyi too finds herself pretty lonely with a husband who perhaps found a new love (with a guy), and while she dispenses advice over the phone, she's clearly in need of some herself. Lacking intimacy in her life, she had to resort to getting it on with a bathtub of eels. Yup, you heard me right. In fact, those expecting some eroticism might find a number of such scenes here being quite unsexy, despite its R21 rating, perhaps having those highly offensive ones edited away. Some old uncles expected to see plenty of naked flesh, but in art film fashion, these have been dealt with so nicely that they can't help but to walk off.
I learnt for starters to appreciate such a film, not to try and look at it as a whole, but to enjoy the moment, where strengths of individual scenes surpass one trying to find deeper meaning in something. Particularly enjoyable scenes include one which Ah Jie and Shin go on a joyride and having their pictures taken (you must check this out), and the ending which like many other surreal scenes in the movie, paints a very dream-like, picturesque postcard portrait.
In a big city it is easy to become a number, unknown too all but one
self. This film shows the tale of a trader that lives such a life, down
on himself and a phone helpline when he is in trouble.
Filled with additives like weed and graphic sex this slow film offers a clear picture of the desolation that is called loneliness but unfortunately it also manages to show the picture of boredom. Slowness in a film isn't bad but there is a thing called "too slow" and this one is just that. Events could have been packed in 30 minutes less and then the pace would have been high enough to make it interesting but this is just too much symbolism and sticking to scenes to express points that were already clear minutes earlier.
Nice imagery, some of it very nice, I will have to admit. Strong expressive film making, I will admit that too. But just stretched out far too long and therefore calling on boredom and even irritation more than on anything else.
4 out of 10 potheads blazing
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