Sordid but transcendent, bathed in neon haze and set to a relentless techno-beat, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Millennium Mambo” — the story of a teenage Taipei membership lady — will not be solely probably the most pop film the good Taiwanese filmmaker has ever made however, intermittently, among the many most astonishingly lovely.
The film has a capital-L look, and the 4K restoration, opening at Metrograph in Manhattan on Dec. 23, does it justice.
“Millennium Mambo” premiered on the 2001 Cannes Movie Pageant, the place it was given a blended reception and an award for sound design. Hou’s first characteristic since his beautiful interval piece “Flowers of Shanghai,” the film marked his entry into up to date territory occupied by two of his youthful admirers, the filmmakers Olivier Assayas and Wong Kar-wai.
Hou’s frequent cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping-bin, had simply shot Wong’s “Within the Temper For Love,” and he reprised its voluptuous imagery: Cigarettes are orange factors of sunshine within the blue-on-blue disco the place Vicky (Shu Qi) spends her nights; the cramped, cruddy residence she shares together with her emotionally abusive boyfriend, a DJ wannabe (Tuan Chun-hao), is a perfumed miasma. The pad’s lush mise-en-scène units up a shock reduce to a gyrating butt within the hostess bar the place Vicky has taken a job and the place she meets her someday protector, a benign gangster with a Buddhist streak (Hou common Jack Kao).
Some took “Millennium Mambo” as Hou’s misguided try to attach with a youthful technology, maybe forgetting that he had begun his profession as a business filmmaker and made quite a lot of “youth movies” — notably the not dissimilar and initially underappreciated “Daughter of the Nile.”
In accordance with Maggie Cheung, Hou had initially wished her to play Vicky, reverse Tony Leung, her co-star from “Within the Temper for Love.” Shu Qi is a much less delicate actor than Cheung, however the film is stronger for it. Stunningly photogenic, distant and self-destructive, alternately passive and hysterical, Shu Qi’s character lives in a trance, paying homage to the Warhol famous person Edie Sedgwick. Because the New York Instances critic Elvis Mitchell wrote in his mildly favorable evaluate, “the insistence of high-throb electronica calls out to Vicky, in order that she kilos the ideas out of her head.”
Vicky’s neurotic habits makes “Millennium Mambo” nearly a case historical past or, given her repetitive voice-over narration, a type of ballad. On the similar time, like different Hou movies, it’s a temporal pretzel. Vicky narrates her story, apparently set within the 12 months 2000, from a degree 10 years sooner or later. Not occasionally we hear about occasions earlier than we see them.
Most mysterious are the transient sequences set within the sleepy, snowy Japanese island of Hokkaido — an alpine setting far completely different from steamy Taipei. Are these unmotivated scenes a flash-forward to Vicky’s untroubled future? A intentionally unconvincing pleased ending à la Douglas Sirk? A fantasy triggered by her probability encounter, whereas clubbing, with two Japanese brothers?
That the director is one thing of a Japanophile — and that, in a spasm of narrative ambiguity, Vicky finds herself within the snowbound city that hosts the Yubari Worldwide Incredible Movie Pageant — may help any of those theories.
Opens Dec. 23 at Metrograph, Manhattan; metrograph.com.