Millennium Mambo Movie Review

What's a girl to do? Nothing seems to be going right for the young and beautiful Vicky (Qi Shu) as she makes her way around noisy and chaotic Taipei looking for ways to get her life heading in the right direction. Hsaio-Shien Hou's Millennium Mambo is a grim and ultimately unrewarding slice of Vicky's life that slowly -- very slowly -- tries to move from point A to point B but never really arrives.

Vicky's biggest problem: her no-good boyfriend Hao-Hao (Chun-Hao Tuan). Unemployed, strung out on drinks, drugs, and an endless supply of cigarettes (this may be the ultimate smoker's movie), Hao-Hao spends most of his time in the couple's tiny apartment practicing to be a DJ and working himself up into jealous rages. When Vicky arrives home after a night on the town with the girls, he smells her neck and then goes through her handbag looking for receipts and phone cards that might implicate her in some kind of deception. A female narrator tells us that Vicky leaves Hao-Hao all the time, but she always comes back "as if hypnotized."

Out and about, Vicky befriends Jack (Jack Kao), a low-level mobster who manages the hostess club where she sometimes dances for a little extra cigarette money. Over and over she moans to him that "I don't know what I should do." Jack seems to care and helpfully suggests that she might consider getting a respectable job in a nearby upscale coffee shop, but she looks at him as if he were completely nuts. Apparently, a job isn't part of Vicky's plan.

She has slightly better luck with a charming pair of half-Japanese brothers who invite her to visit them in their hometown in the snowy reaches of northern Hokkaido. She makes the trip and finds herself delighted by the scenery and the vibe. The contrast between frantic Taipei and the snow-covered silences of the small Japanese town couldn't be more stark.

Clearly Hou intends for Vicky to symbolize something, but it's unclear what. Is she representative of a lost generation of consumerist kids who drink and drug and propel their lives in no particular direction while a relentless techno beat throbs in the background? (The film's soundtrack is excellent, a veritable feast for techno fans.) Is she a female victim of a world controlled by stupid men? If Hou means to use Vicky to demonstrate the dehumanizing effect of modern city life, he doesn't come close to matching the punch of fellow countryman Tsai Ming-Liang, whose many challenging and powerful films of Taiwanese urban angst (The River, The Hole, What Time Is It There?, Vive L'Amour) are full of unforgettable imagery. By comparison, Vicky's problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Though Qi Shu deserves credit for her screen presence and stamina (she's in every scene and smokes many cigarettes), there's only so much she can do with the flatly drawn character she's been giving. The bottom line is that Vicky simply needs to snap out of it, dump her crummy boyfriend once and for all, quit smoking, and get herself a decent job.

The DVD includes one extended scene and an interview with the director.

Aka Qianxi Manbo.

Note to self: Clean Post-Its off fridge.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Comments

Millennium Mambo Rating

" Weak "

Rating: NR, 2003

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