Millennium Mambo review

:. Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou
:. Starring: Qi Shu, Jack Kao
:. Running Time: 2:00
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: Taiwan


As Millenium Mambo opens, following Vicky (Qi Shu) as she walks with an ecstatic grace on a bridge, almost floating in complete silence, you get instantly taken by the beauty of the scene, getting the feeling you're in for something unique. And it is.

Veteran director Hsiao-hsien Hou, better known for melodramas such as The Puppetmaster and Flowers of Shanghai, has crafted a gorgeous and poetic film, which almost stands still, as the setting—mostly reduced to an apartment—and the story—a girl in a passive-abusive relationship—are almost inexistent.

Bathed in vibrant colors and supported by a chill-out electronic soundtrack, Millenium Mambo is, rather than a picture, an experience, which aims at brushing against the emotional state of its central character, to absorb her beauty and vacuity without interfering, like in some sort of naturalist painting. The rhythm is slow, with a contemplative-like quality and Millenium Mambo seems to owe as much to Wong Kar Wai (2046) as it does to Andrei Tarkovski (Solaris) in its artistic approach.

The bare story, which carries a vicious sense of doom, is just a pretext for the study of a modern girl who seems to lack a purpose in life; this is the portrait of a current generation, which is brushed with distance, without any judgmental angle. Hou's film could pass for a documentary, if it weren't for his extreme aesthetic approach.

There is also an erotic dimension in his work that Shu--recently seen in the Luc Besson stinker The Transporter—carries, without ever showing any skin. You clearly understand that all those guys are falling for her; however she just keeps following her instincts, most of the time unfocused and headed in the wrong direction.

Since Millenium Mambo is mostly a movie for the senses, it never allows the audience to go deeper into the story or in the characters. It stays on the glossy surface of its superficial life—most of the characters live at night in clubs—but if you accept its rules and suspend your bias against slow movies, you will be able to reach the inner beauty of Hou's bewitching immobile dance.

  Fred Thom

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