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Mambo for the Millennium

Millennium Mambo
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (2001)

Fortuitously timed during her on-going cinematic heyday, Shu Qi's marvelous appearance in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's disturbingly comforting Millennium Mambo has cemented the Taiwan beauty's status as respected character performer once and for all.

Running an almost Seinfeld-like course in its relative lack of plot motivation, the film may bother some with depictions of mild drug use and sexuality, but it will also attract many more for those reasons and for its ability to fascinate despite not having an obvious driving force.

Playing Vicky, a hardened yet oddly fragile party girl with an abusive boyfriend, Shu Qi steps in to provide more than enough motivation to sit through it with enchanting skill, not to mention a chain smoking habit belonging in at least a couple of world record projects. Her character bounces around between a troubled relationship with stoically disturbed Hao-Hao (Tuan Chun Hao, apparently playing himself...) and beckoning safety with older "businessman" Jack (Jack Kao), who provides her tragic existence with a permanent anchor on which to fall on. In between, Vicky must deal with problems created by others while she exhibits strength and maturity in her erratic reality, mostly comprised of night time haunts and a jobless slacker lifestyle.

Millennium Mambo doesn't attain true greatness in that it always seems as if hardly anything happens or changes during its hour and forty minute span. Alas, you will be unable to detach yourself from the screen, mostly thanks to excellent performances, but also due to well-crafted visuals (both in Taibei itself and in Japan's Hokkaido) and a capable techno soundtrack, perfectly suited to the movie's low-key, saddened atmosphere.

Above all, it doesn't fall prey to pomposity, generally feeling as if there was no camera present and all you're watching is someone's everyday stuff (take note, MTV). Having said that, the more demanding out there will lament its anemic pace. 

For yet another glimpse at Shu Qi's ongoing professional evolution alone Millennium Mambo would warrant observation, even if you take your movies with more spice.

(cityweekend.com.cn February 12, 2004)

Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien
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