Critical essays, histories, and appreciations of great films
- Hou Hsiao-hsien
- Shu Qi, Tuan Chun-hao, Jack Kao, Jun Takeuchi, Doze Niu
- 107 min.
- Release Date
The transfixing first shot of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo finds Vicky, played by Hou regular Shu Qi, walking down an enclosed pedestrian corridor in mesmeric slow motion. Above, fluorescent lights glow, giving the passage an unearthly blue radiance. Under the image of Vicky walking, her hair bouncing with each breezy step, an electronic score eases into the aural space, adding a thumping and propulsive tempo. Vicky looks back and through the openings along the tunnel, smoking her cigarette and smiling as if beckoning the camera to follow. Though she appears in hypnotic bliss, her remote and melancholic voiceover recollects her past with a certain distance that only comes with time. Vicky refers to herself as “she,” as though she was another person then, in 2001. She narrates from ten years later. The shot, which lasts two-and-a-half unbroken minutes before the title screen, establishes Hou’s central theme in literal and figurative terms. Millennium Mambo is about reflecting on a stagnant, transitional period of youthful celebration upon the arrival of the twenty-first century—lost in neon-glimmering parties, bad relationships, thankless jobs, and aimless searching. For Vicky, telling the story about this chapter of her life is more for herself than the viewer. Searching her memories, she uncovers the texture of an era.
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