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INTERPRETATION OF HOU HSIAO-HSIEN’S MILLENIUM MAMBO

INTERPRETATION OF HOU HSIAO-HSIEN’S MILLENIUM MAMBO

INTERPRETATION OF HOU HSIAO-HSIEN’S MILLENIUM MAMBO

BRIEF INTRODUCTION OF THE FILM

Millennium Mambo was written by T’ien-wen Chu and produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien in the year 2001. It is a Taiwan romance drama that is told from Vicky’s first person point of view. Shu Qi, a decorated actress, played Vicky.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM

While the story is told from 2011, the events begin in 2001; a year after the world had welcomed the new millennium with much celebration, promise, and hope. It centers around Vicky and her friends, a lively, adventurous group that is enjoying their youthfulness. They drink, dance, party and take drugs almost on a daily basis. She narrates her meeting with Hao, her boyfriend, and how they leave their homes to live in another part of the country. Hao intentionally destroys his health to avoid compulsory recruitment into the army, which he sees as a distraction from his daily partying routine. Vicky works in a club, a job she appears to have chosen for its fun. However, Hao is insecure and jealous, which makes him abusive. Unable to stand the stressful relationship, Vicky moves in with Jack, a gang member in the neighborhood. Soon later, Jack has troubles with the law, which makes him to flee to Japan, with instructions to Vicky to follow him there. She travels to Japan, but on arrival, she does not find Jack. She decides to visit some friends who live in Tokyo and spends time with them, and for the first time appears happy and relaxed after seemingly escaping the stressful relationships in Taiwan.

PREFERRED READING 1A

The film is a depiction of the truth about the lives of young people in Taiwan, especially in its capital, Taipei. The new millennium was a symbol of modernization, and most people interpret it as a show of happiness and sophistication. The title would seem to suggest that the storyline borders on these aspects of the capital city. However, the story is totally different, with a depiction of the problems facing the youth taking precedence in the film. The viewer is made aware of the problems facing youth, such as alcoholism and drug taking. The film shows that the youth in Taipei, and by extension the whole of Taiwan, have serious social problems which the rest of the world may not be paying attention to. They are battling drug addiction and partying in clubs, and are involved in gangs, crime and other unlawful activities. Also, they are idle, yet they seem to have enough money for luxury, probably the proceeds of crime. Also, they have problems in their relationships, which have become meaningless and abusive as seen in the case of Hao and Vicky. Furthermore, there is much disillusionment among the young people and their resorting to drugs and alcoholism is a result of their lost hope. Vicky’s going to Japan, her failure to meet Hao and the film’s ending on an empty street symbolize the lack of hope for the youth. For them, life is useless and they do not have any promise of making things better.

CINEMATIC TECHNIQUES FOR PR1A

The film utilizes a long shot to show Vicky as she lies on a couch in deep thought. This portrays her as a lonely, disillusioned individual who does not fit in with the surrounding environment. The same technique is used in the scene on the street in Tokyo, showing how distant the young are from meeting their dreams of a better life. Secondly, the use of third person voice over narration to divulge some details helps the viewer to appreciate the tribulations of characters, and have an independent opinion about the details that Vicky is giving. In the opening scene, the off screen narrator talks about Vicky’s loneliness, drawing the attention of the audience to this aspect as opposed to ordinary films which present the events as they happened and let the viewer make his own conclusions.

PREFERRED READING 1B

The film pursues the idea of a love story, although it is the sad presentation of Hao and Vicky. The film has made the effort, aided by first person narration of Vicky and the voice over narrations, to present the pain she lives through. Hao is insecure and jealous, which makes him abuse Vickly. The viewer notices that the writer wishes to belittle Hao in the way he approaches the relationship with Vicky. He physically sniffs Vicky whenever she comes back from work, concentrating his sniffing around the private parts, in an effort to get evidence of her being with another man. This presents him as an animal that has sunk below common decency to try and contain his girlfriend. Also, it helps endear the audience to Vicky, which eventually helps in the dissemination of the theme of lack of love and commitment in relationships. The disconnected relationship which lacks love, but is more of a cohabitation in an effort to share costs, is a reflection of a society which has lost its humanness and is more of a mechanized affair in which even lovers feel nothing for each other; and this is a result of the hard struggle for life. In an environment in which young people are lacking the basics, it is impossible to enjoy fruitful and respectable romantic relationships.

CINEMATIC TECHNIQUES FOR PR 1B

The film utilizes a close up shot during the scene in which Hao and Vicky are having sex. The camera focuses closely on Vicky’s face and in so doing, brings it close to the viewer’s mind. In using this technique, the PR1B message of disconnected individuals is highlighted well. The intention of the director in this scene is not to showcase the lovemaking scene, but the emotional aspects as expressed by Vicky’s facial expressions. Through the close up viewing of Vicky’s facial expression, the audience learns that she is not emotionally involved in the love making; but is in it only for convenience. She wears a bored, expressionless face that reveals a disinterested mind in the whole affair. The close shot is used together with limbo lighting, which is evident in the scene in which Vicky is narrating with yellow light focusing on her, as the rest of the surrounding remains in darkness. This technique emphasizes the feeling of loneliness that has come to define Vicky.

OPPOSITIONAL READING OP1

While the real intention was to portray the problems of the youth in Taiwan, the movie may unintentionally give youth from different countries the image of Taipei as the center of fun and enjoyment. A presentation in which young people are free to party, take alcohol, sing, dance and take drugs may give the image of a city in which having fun is the norm. The young people shown in the film are healthy, happy, and attractive. The young people do not do any work, yet they have the ability to sustain their expensive and luxurious lifestyle, the kind of life which could attract many fun loving young people. If one was to depend on the movie alone for information about Taipei, they could get a false impression about how easy life is in the city. There is no indication how these young people get the means of financing their lives, and even more critically, the movie fails to show any consequences for vices such as alcoholism, drug taking and careless sex. The film fails in its social responsibility of educating young people on the need to work hard, get education and engage in virtuous lives, and instead seems to glorify alcoholism, drug taking and irresponsible sexual behavior.

CINEMATICH TECHNIQUES FOR OR1

The use of music helps give the movie viewer the feeling of being in a city in which all is nice and easy, which is a false impression. The club scenes are accompanied by loud booming music that seems to dwarf any other sound, and makes the viewer feel that the music has taken over the entire city. Secondly, the film utilizes lighting as a show of happiness or lack of it. Whenever Vicky is experiencing moments of sadness or fake form of happiness like when she is with Hao, there is artificial, and sometimes dim lighting which may be colored to signify blurred happiness. However, when she finally breaks free from Hao and moves to Japan where she meets her friends, she experiences genuine happiness, which is seen in the way she sits in her car, a smile of her face, and intense lighting surrounding her. This time, the source of the light is the sun, natural and friendly to the eye, signifying that she has finally found happiness and freedom.

OPPOSITIONAL READING OR2

The plot of the story may be confusing to viewers who are used to the conventional Hollywood style of sequential story telling techniques. The events do not flow in the film according to their natural timing, and instead, some actions are fronted then those that are already past are shown later. This may confuse the audience into not following the story well. The director has manipulated the chronology of events to suit his intentions, but this places extra interpretive requirements on the viewer, who has to be extra keen and intuitive to reconnect and arrange the events in their logical order.  Such extra effort normally disillusions viewers, making them lose track of the main events that shape the themes of the story.

CINEMATIC TECHNIQUES FOR OR2

The film utilizes slow pacing, which makes the events seem not to transit fast enough for the viewer. It appears stuck and takes long on some scenes. The fronting technique, where the director brings forward some of the events that should have come towards the end of the film makes it difficult to follow the story. Also, the camera is placed at a low level frame, as seen in the way the camera is placed at waist level instead of the normal eye level. For example, in the first scene at the club, the camera is at waist level, and the viewer is not able to see the faces of the people, causing some frustration and anxiety. Also, the contrast used is low, and in some scenes, it is difficult to distinguish between a character and his surroundings. This makes it difficult to distinctly single out participants, and requires much keenness to follow.

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