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Helmut Lang
1 month ago

"Looking at the youthful friends around me, I find that their cycle and rhythm of ‘birth, age, illness and death’ are moving several times faster than those of my generation," says auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien about his sexy and transfixing Millennium Mambo, a departure (read: more techno music) of sorts for a director known for less youthful pictures like The Flowers of Shanghai and The Puppetmaster. The film is an ethereal, opiate-induced chronicle of a young girl (a flower of Shanghai if you will) whose life is preciously unexamined. Vicki (Shu Qi) lives with her abusive disc jockey boyfriend Hao-Hao (Tuan Chung-Hao); when she finally leaves him, she befriends a mobster, Jack (Kao Jack), who doesn’t bring her any closer to joy. The film begins at the end, with a noticeably free Vicki walking down a footbridge before she disappears into the dark shadows of a staircase below. The camera stops—or, more accurately, it lets go. Very little happens in the film (hence the Hollywood Reporter’s frustration) because Hou’s subject is (once again) stasis. Just as the forward momentum of Hou’s images seemingly summons Vicki toward a life of transcendence, the girl’s elegiac voice-over (positioned 10 years in the future) suggests that she did persevere the ennui and doping of her young life. Some of the most beautiful passages in the film evoke the paralysis of modern living and the promise of change: Vicki leaves an imprint of her face on the snow and an 80-year-old grandmother yearns for another 20 years (so she can see how much the world around her has changed). The second-person perspective of Vicki’s voice-over ravishingly intensifies Hou’s fixation with the disconnect between our past and present lives—that inexplicable, instantaneous moment in time when we leave a ghostly self behind.

Millenium Mambo

Hou Hsiao-hsien, the leading figure of the Taiwanese New Wave, is one of the most important and influential filmmakers to emerge over the past three decades. His sensuous, richly textured work, marked by elegantly staged long takes, largely static camera positions, and a radically elliptical approach to storytelling, is instantly recognizable in such widely acclaimed movies as Flowers of ShanghaiThe PuppetmasterCafé LumièreA City of SadnessDust in the Wind, and Flight of the Red Balloon.

Also like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien

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Top row, from left: surgeon’s; stevedore; sheepshank; sheet bend. Middle row, from left: monkey’s fist; true lovers’; figure-eight; bowline; thief; reef. Bottom: carrick bend
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Top row, from left: surgeon’s; stevedore; sheepshank; sheet bend. Middle row, from left: monkey’s fist; true lovers’; figure-eight; bowline; thief; reef. Bottom: carrick bend

In Praise of the Humble Knot

Bumper stickers by Jordan Wolfson.

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