My first two looks at this Hou Hsiao-hsien feature (2001), initially announced as the first in a series, led me to conclude it's one of the emptiest good-looking films by a major director that I can recall—even though it was also the first of his films to get a U.S. release (not counting the barely noticed 1987 Daughter of the Nile). The characters are terminally familiar zeros, and this Taiwanese master's gifts as a prescient historian of the present appear to have deserted him. Visually, he works much closer to his actors than usual and moves them in and out of focus, defining a much more claustrophobic world than he has in the past. But the story—a young bar hostess (Hong Kong star Shu Qi) shuttles between her jealous boyfriend and a gangster while taking ecstasy and throwing tantrums—seems standard issue, apart from the somewhat unorthodox voice-over narration, at least until an unexpectedly lyrical finale. In Mandarin with subtitles.
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