1991-2000ArthouseMing-liang TsaiMusicalTaiwan

Ming-liang Tsai – Dong AKA The Hole (1998)

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(From Allmovie Guide)

“At the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, this Taiwanese-French drama won a FIPRESCI Award, given by international critics. Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang previously won top awards for his 1994 Vive l’amour (at Venice) and 1996 The River (at Berlin). High strangeness is evident in the tale, originally initiated as part of the French TV series of one-hour end-of-millennium dramas. As an epidemic spreads through Taipei, virus victims display odd symptoms. A man (Lee Kang-sheng) who runs a food store with few customers lives in a shabby building in a quarantined section, and a woman (Yang Kuei-mei) in the same building has a withdrawn existence. A plumber, checking a leak, makes a hole in the man’s floor and leaves; the man then observes his neighbors through the hole. The film features four musical fantasy sequences that recall Hong Kong musical films of the ’50s.” — Bhob Stewart

“This dystopian musical is a typically deadpan elaboration of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s trademark obsessions. Set in a grim, dilapidated apartment complex in a rainy, not-too-distant future, The Hole pushes Tsai’s absurdist cinema to its loopiest extreme. Starring Yang Kuei-Mei and Tsai regular Lee Kang Sheng as zombified neighbors, the movie imagines a dreary world where urban anomie and existential loneliness have seemingly ground life to a halt. Barely acknowledging the other’s existence, the two drift purposelessly through their bleak landscape, taking in apathetic stride their apocalyptic limbo. The only respite comes in the form of song. Using a device commonly associated with British writer Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective), Tsai punctuates his minimalist action with lip-synched renditions of popular radio standards (the songs here are from Hong Kong musicals of the 1950s). Stupefied and glum one minute, his characters burst into delirious musical numbers the next, unexpectedly — and joyfully — interrupting the monotony of their listless lives. As in Potter’s works, the pop interludes express subliminal desires, as well as underscore the characters’ profound loneliness. Placed side by side with his rigorously inert mise-en-scéne, the wonderfully choreographed numbers almost create an effect of visual vertigo; they’re that much more delirious because they spring from such a constricted source. A true oddity, The Hole is as pleasurable as millennial angst gets.” — Elbert Ventura


Subtitles:English, Spanish and Italian

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