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I was told the Guangdong-born Taiwanese director Hou Hsian-hsien was influenced by the great Ozu Yasujiro, so I went and checked out some of his films. I am afraid I did not choose well, as the only two films I've seen thus far bored me to death. The first one I watched was "The Flight of the Red Balloon", a French film, inspired by the French classic "The Red Balloon". It was kind of interesting but a bit boring for me. The second film I checked out turned out to be even more boring than the first one. I am not gonna rant about how boring this is, so below are just some of the things I like:

 - This has to be the first "Mandarin" film (as it was labeled on the DVD) that I have to rely on English subtitles (they didn't have Chinese subtitles. blah) in order to understand it. It's not in Mandarin, buddy. It's in Shanghainese to reflect the period more accurately (late 19th century Qing dynasty). All the characters speak Shanghainesen throughout the film, except for the private moments between Hada Michiko's character and Tony Leung's character in which they speak Cantonese. I like how they speak Cantonese in private, which signifies the closeness of their relationship, but they switch to Shanghainese when talking to other people, as this is most likely the case in RL as well. Kudos to the actors who didn't know Shanghainese (Tony Leung is from HK) for making the effort. So unlike Chinese/HK films nowadays (*cough*2046*cough*) where they have one character speak Cantonese and one speak Mandarin (and other dialects as well), but they act as if they understand each other perfectly. Of course we acquire the ability to understand other dialects over time, but for strangers to act this way it is very strange indeed.

- This has to put the people who dissed Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh for playing Japanese characters in Memoir of a Geisha to shame. Hada Michiko, a Japanese actress, played a Chinese call girl in this film and she pulled off this character well, although her Chinese lines are dubbed. I wish more people could obsesses less about actors' and actresses' nationalities when it comes to films unless the choice does not make sense for the film. I hold the same opinion when people bitch about why Americans are chosen to play British/other Europeans unless the accent is very grating.

- The film is produced by Shochiku, the same company that produced most of Ozu's films.

- The film never leaves the brothel house, and seems to be shot almost entirely under candle light or with oil lamp. It is mesmerizing to look at, but also sleep-inducing. I guess Hou Hsiao-hsien wanted his audience to feel as numb as his characters, who were constantly smoking opium throughout the film. The only non-soporific parts for me were Michelle Reis' bitching and Tony Leung's fit. It is an above-average art-house film, but I wouldn't recommend this unless you are Hou Hsiao-hsien's die-hard fan.


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Miu Miu

July 2011

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