18 June 2002 | zetes
Brilliant, for the most part
Tsai's unique style gives rise to another film about isolation in urbanization. Hsiao-kang's father has just died, and he and his mother must hold together. He doesn't have much problem doing that, but his mother is going insane with loneliness, so much so that she entirely imbues herself in her religious beliefs. Around this time, Hsaio-kang sells his personal watch to a girl about to fly to Paris. Soon after this, Hsiao-kang becomes obsessed with her (or is it the watch?) and decides to set all his watches (he sells them on the street) to Paris time, and then all the clocks in his house, and then all the clocks he can find. The girl gets stranded in Paris, having lost her plane ticket. The film moves slow and it has little dialogue, as is Tsai's style, but it is incredibly beautiful in its composition, editing, everything. The story is quite great, too. Tsai is a wonderful humanist. The film builds up to a silent crescendo, where the three main characters each endure cold acts of love and failed attempts at communication. When the film closes, all three are asleep, two in Taipei and one in Paris, all three alone.
Okay, I should have ended it there, but I do have two problems with the film, go figure. First, Hsiao-kang's clock setting is highly amusing at first, but it does get very old after a while. The sequence that ends in the movie theater bathroom is gold, perfect, so Tsai should have just stopped there with that motif. The scene where he sneaks into a clock store and the scene where he resets the clock tower are superfluous. We got the point, and it should have been moving forward. Secondly, I think it's about time Tsai moved on. I love the three films of his I've seen, including The Hole and Vive L'Amour, but the style is the same in all three, as is the theme. Michelangelo Antonioni, who is obviously Tsai's main inspiration (though this particular film has a lot of references to the Truffaut film The 400 Blows, including a very funny cameo by Jean-Pierre Leaud), had a problem moving on from this material, as well, with everything from L'Avventura to Red Desert being very similar (although his style evolved more than Tsai's has), and even after that his films had comparable themes. As much as I like Tsai (and Antonioni), if his next film is just like this, I'm sure it will hurt my presently high opinion of him. 9/10.