Thursday 9 October 2014

What Time Is It There? [2001]

With What Time Is It There? Tsai provided a ravishingly beautiful, deeply haunting, richly moody and quietly affecting meditation on temporal and spatial interconnectedness, or lack thereof. Sterile concrete jungles, claustrophobic apartments, incessant increase in distances between people and resultant loss of connection, and ensuing ennui, loneliness, urban alienation and existential crisis, formed the key thematic elements in this marvelously composed and meticulously crafted gem. The film’s parallel strands focused on two lonely, idiosyncratic and affectionately etched characters residing on the fringes of the society – Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), a street vendor who sells watches, and Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi), a young woman who’s travelling to Paris. Shiang coaxing Hsiao to sell her the dual-time watch he’s wearing kicks off the storylines of these two characters grappling for human contact, albeit in vain. Hsaio’s recently widowed mother (Lu Yi-ching), unable to accept her husband’s death, is convinced of the presence of the deceased man’s ghost and reincarnation in her grief-stricken infatuation, while he becomes obsessed with setting all clocks and watches, including a massive clock attached to a skyscraper, to Paris time; meanwhile Shiang, unable to speak French, finds herself increasingly isolated in a strange world. Dark humour, irony, ambiguities and absurdist developments played fascinating roles in this delightfully concocted, profoundly melancholic and ultimately tragic exploration. In one bravura sequence, intercuts are used for showing socially deviant sexual situations of the 3 characters – the mother pleasuring herself through fantasy bordering on necrophilia, Hsiao with a prostitute in his cramped car, and Shiang tentatively kissing a lady she’s just met. Jean-Pierre Léaud made a cameo appearance in the film as did his 14 year-old avatar in a clip from The 400 Blows.

Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Psychological Drama
Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin/French
Country: Taiwan

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