Review: WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? 你那邊幾點? (2001) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Review: WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? 你那邊幾點? (2001)


Up to that time, Kuching-born and Taiwan-based auteur Tsai Ming-Liang's fourth feature, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? is widely recognized as his most accomplished work to date. Which of course, that depends on viewers' point-of-view because Tsai's filmmaking style is more of the same: long and unbroken static shots, no direct plot, little dialogue, cryptic motives, deadpan humor and the ever-present themes of isolation and heartache.

The movie opens with an old man (Miao Tien) alone in a darkened apartment, puffing on a cigarette as he sits at the kitchen table. Cut to the next scene, we learn that the old man dies and leaves behind his wife (Lu Yi-Ching) and son, Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng). For the next 49 days, Hsiao's highly-superstitious mother spends her time awaiting and encouraging her deceased husband's return through reincarnation. Her superstition is way extreme until she forbids her son to kill the cockroach they encounter one day in the kitchen. Not only that, she performs other weird ritual that her son has grown increasingly helpless to see her in such condition.

During day time, Hsiao Kang earns his living through peddling wristwatch on the streets of Taipei. One afternoon, he is approached by a young Taiwanese woman (Chen Shiang-Chyi) who is looking for a dual-time watch. After browsing the collection of the wristwatch, she ends up preferring the one where Hsiao wears in his wrist. At first, Hsiao refuses to sell it to her because it will bring her bad luck since he's still in the mourning. But the woman insists on buying his watch since she's leaving for Paris the next day. She convinces him a couple of times, and Hsiao finally agrees to sell away his own wristwatch to her. As a gratitude, she leaves him a piece of cake.

Despite their brief meeting, Hsiao finds himself somehow obsessed with the young who is now wearing his watch, even though she's already far away in Paris. Thus begins his strange fixation as he resets all of the watches in his display case to Paris time. He doesn't stop from there, as he goes further by adjusting the clock on the kitchen wall in his home (where his mother mistaken the abnormality of the time as a sign from her deceased husband) as well as numerous clocks he can find in public areas.

Tsai Ming-Liang and Yang Pi-Ying's screenplay doesn't have much story to tell, other than a collage of cinematic stills abstracting one after another over the course of two-hour running time. Just about everything here are suggestively cryptic and the vague depiction of the movie is clearly not for everyone who doesn't have patience. So it's no surprising that most viewers will find this an absurd piece of cinematic bore, but this movie remains a treat for art-house fans.

Themes of isolation, heartache as well as loneliness are well-calculated here. In the world of Tsai Ming-Liang, there are nothing fanciful or spectacular even in supposedly lively city like Taipei or Paris (as depicted in this movie) except everything that is static and muted. His particular depiction of time is both fascinating and amusing at the same time, it's kind of hard not to giggle the course of action Hsiao Kang does to reset every clock he can find. One memorable scene involves him adjusting the clock outside a movie theater after a toilet break, and brings it with him into the theater hall. His bizarre action has nevertheless attracts the attention of a chubby young man (Huang Kuo-Cheng), who enters the theater hall and snatches the clock away. Hsiao Kang, of course, pursues the man into the men's room and later finds him emerging from one of the toilet stalls with just the clock covering his genitalia.

The rest of the unforgettable scenes, are of course the one involves Hsiao Kang's mother which often delivers the movie's most deadpan humor. A scene where she becomes obsessed with taping off every source of light in the apartment to acknowledge her deceased husband's preference for darkness, is a must-see.

Less successful is the parallel story that involves the young Taiwanese woman struggling her day-and-night routine in Paris. Unlike the story happens to Hsiao Kang, we never really learn about her presence in Paris. Even after she eventually encounters a female Hong Kong stranger (Cecilia Yip) in which they end up sharing the same bed together and engaging in a brief lesbian act, her course of action remains as vague as it gets.

A bonus for movie enthusiasts: Jean-Pierre Leaud, who starred in François Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS (1959), makes a cameo appearance here as the man in the cemetery who encounters the young Taiwanese woman.

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