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What Time is it There?
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by Greg Muskewitz

5 stars

There is no simple sentence that can provide an adroit summary of what this film is about, inasmuch as it is not about anything in specific per se, except preoccupations with time and how it is used.

A storyline, almost any sort of storyline, is more preferable that none at all. No matter how spliced, shifted, disheveled or rearranged (Mon Oncle d’Amerique, Lost Highway, Pulp Fiction, Memento), the idea that there is something to grasp onto along the way is a comforting assumption. When there is nothing to grab a hold of — when the surface is completely smooth and oily, you slide off and drown into obscurities. Tsai Ming-liang prefers that one glide around in awe and suspense, choosing pace over delivery, profound impact over artificial morality. The forked tale observe a mother and son coping with the death — separately — and a young Taiwanese girl vacationing in Paris with the bad luck she inherited from a watch. I propound that What Time…? is Ming-liang’s hommage to French cinema; suggested through his footage of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, the cameo of that film’s child-star Jean-Pierre Léaud, references to Alain Resnais and Hiroshima, Mon Amour, the milieu, etc. The tribute is a sui generis of sorts, a beautiful bubble released into the winds that expires only when it has exhausted itself, and not the other way around. It is remarkable and personable without being familiar or sullied. Ming-liang has a classic type of style, even though his substance does not carry that same resonance. For one thing, he knows how to frame a scene, and how to capture or create the tension in and only in the frame. Never once does Ming-liang’s camera budge from each fade-in to fade-out (except in the rare case that he repositions the camera in another stoic standstill), and the only time there really is a sweeping movement, is when he displays a clip from The 400 Blows. Aesthetically, it is a beautiful tool that goes all-too-often unused. While I would not want every other filmmaker to stick to a leaflet of rules and regulations (there will always be the froward-type), the distinction is a nice beat into the mix. Ming-liang makes sure, however, to fill in his share of quirks that illustrate emptiness and fulfillment and the passages of time; some tend to reach for the obscure (the chubby naked boy, blocking his genitals with a clock), but then there is the beautiful examples, like the metaphorical suggestion of time being rewound by the counterclockwise turn of the Ferris wheel.

With Lee Kang-sheng.


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originally posted: 10/06/02 12:28:43
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7/20/04 Highclass Its alright 3 stars
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