What Time Is It There?

on January 11, 2002 by Ed Scheid
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Far superior to director/co-writer Tsai Ming-Liang's previous film, "The Hole," "What Time Is It There?" is an original gem about an obsession with time.

   An unusual bond links modern Taiwan and Paris. In Taipei, an old man (Miao Tien) dies, and his widow (Lu Yi-Ching), obsessed with his reincarnation, forbids her son to kill even a cockroach in their cramped apartment in case it's her husband returning to her. She becomes increasingly desperate for any kind of sign from the dead man. Son and mother are largely silent with each other.

   The son, Hsiao Kang ("The Hole's" Lee Kang-Sheng), makes his living selling wristwatches on the street. A young woman, Shiang-Chi (Chen Shiang-Chyi), wants to buy Hsiao Kang's own wristwatch that displays two time zones, as she's just about to travel to Paris. As part of his sales pitch, Hsiao Kang hits a watch against a post to prove its strength. Later, remembering Shiang-Chi, he feels drawn to her, and in some uniquely comic scenes he tries to reset every clock to Paris time.

   In noisy Paris, Shiang-Chi is just as lonely as the watch seller in Taipei. Both are mysteriously connected. With little dialogue, the actors must rely on facial expressions to reveal the depth of their characters' longing for personal contact.

   Tsai's directorial style mainly involves long takes set in cramped indoor spaces that emphasize the characters' isolation. Tsai's continual visual inventiveness is enhanced by the skilled lighting effects of cinematographer Benoit Delhome and the production design of Yip Kam Tim ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon").

   Tsai impressively adds quirky humor to his extremely moving film on solitary lives in the modern city. Starring Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tien and Jean-Pierre Leaud. Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang. Written by Tsai Ming-Liang and Yang Pi-Ying. Produced by Bruno Pesery. No distributor set. Comedy/Drama. English-, Mandarin- and French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 116 min.

Tags: Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tien, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Yang Pi-Ying, Comedy/Drama, Taipei, personal, inventiveness, effects, moving, solitary, Tsai Ming-Liang, Bruno Pesery, Mandarin-language, French-language, subtitled
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