What Time is it There?

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 01/25/02 06:34:32

"Like watching fish swim in a tank"
3 stars (Average)

Another Tsai Ming-Liang film following the same family from The River who are first introduced in Rebels of a Neon God. Like watching fish in a tank. Not much dialogue, lots of focus on mundane things. In spite of the melancholy, despair, isolation there is a family dynamic holding them together in what you could describe as deeply dysfunctional but is more like the condition of urban dwellers who share a common identification to a place and that creates a kind of intimacy among strangers.

A girl goes to Paris. A street watch seller has an obsession with clocks. A mother is obsessed with being visited by the reincarnation of her dearly departed husband. Not much is explained. If there is a story, it is the one you intuit as you connect the images. The audience is completely involved in discovering the story for the characters who seem to lack self-awareness.

In asian culture, images take on a life of their own and the urban imagery and the composition of the scenes can be evocative, if you like watching fish swim in a tank.

Modern Taipei and Paris are the tank. His characters repeat a few simple actions and their motivation is unknown. There are few points of reference other than food, clothing, shelter, basic bodily functions or dysfunctions.

“When making a film, I never think of the plot first, but rather I think in terms of concept or revelation.”, says Tsai Ming-Liang. And it shows. He’s happier to let the story flow from a few primal ideas. In What Time Is It There those ideas are Death and Time and Love.

I like The River because it explores some dark and dangerous territory whereas What Time Is It There focuses on a poisonous reliance on routine. If you can stay awake you might get something out of it.

What I didn't understand is how this family from The River could become the family in What Time Is It There. In The River, the sexual relationships had all turned cold and their lives were reduced to duty. Where was the love hiding that it could be reborn after the death of a loved one?

Ming-Liang calls himself “anti-modern” but instead of bucolic images of agrarian joy and cameraderie, he focuses on the city as the backdrop for distinctly urban lives. Ming-Liang was the subject of a retrospective at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center in June of 2001.

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