Wednesday 27 August 2008

Millennium Mambo (2001)

Vicky, as played by Qi Shu, is a young lady in Hong Kong, who at least at the beginning of the film seems to be happy and full of life. However we soon discover that she's happy because she's not with her boyfriend, as she continues to be every time she's not with him. He's called Hao-Hao and the opening narration explains that they have a love/hate relationship, not that we see much of the former side. She keeps leaving him but he keeps tracking her down and she always goes back to him.

He hasn't much going for him and she knows it, because all he does is sit at home playing video games, doing drugs or playing around with a DJ deck, yet something makes her stay. Hao-Hao describes them as coming from different worlds, that she came down to his and so doesn't understand it. This is highlighted when we first meet him: with her dressed all in red and him in dark blue and black, with the demon on his Gene Simmons shirt glaring out, but he compensates for his lack of much of anything by ensuring that she's stuck at his level.

He does this through controlling behaviour. He checks her bags to see if she'd spent money on things. He checks the phone bill to see if she'd made a long call. You can imagine what happens if he finds anything to be suspicious about. He attacks a man in a bar at one point just because someone else says that he'd like to be with Vicky. He even checks her out when she's been out to see if she's done anything he wouldn't want. Once he deliberately didn't wake her for her final school exam, so she didn't graduate. If she graduated, maybe she'd have left.

I have a feeling that Millennium Mambo is one of those films that appears on the surface to be nothing much of anything, without any real plot or purpose, but under that surface there's a huge amount of social comment. The catch is that I've a feeling I'm trying to see it from a completely different culture and not understanding the references. I saw some things early on though. At a party when someone sets off a Chinese party popper that doesn't have much pop, they describe it as a great thing with not much inside, and we're not sure if they're talking about the popper or China itself. The entertainment is a magician who talks about an international magic contest in China and the fact that his certificate of entry is in English because it has more class.

However many of the cultural references I don't get though, the theme is universal and I know far too many people who are stuck in exactly the same situation: people who get into, stay in and even go back to destructive relationships. They do so because of lack of self worth or self confidence, because at least it's an environment they know or because, as the tagline suggests, they can excuse the bad through a moment of good: 'the moment that I am loved will become everything to me'. I wonder what they people I know would think watching this from a third person perspective and seeing their own lives. Probably they'd make the same excuses that Vicky does. Maybe that's the point of the film: it may be a brand new millennium but nothing much has changed.

In a strange touch, the cast almost entirely play characters with their own names, Vicky being about the only exception. She's Qi Shu, who I've seen a few times and been impressed with but without ever having her stamped on my brain as someone to watch out for. This film comes after The Storm Riders but before The Eye 2 and The Transporter, probably the most memorable I've seen her. Amazingly she had Zhang Ziyi's role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but was pulled out by her manager to make a commercial instead. Needless to say the manager was soon fired.

I don't know the other actors at all. Jack Kao, who plays Jack, I've seen precisely once, in a small role in Jackie Chan's The Prisoner. Chun-hao Tuan, who plays Hao-Hao, I've never seen before. Like the film itself he appears to be doing nothing but he reminds me of so many people I know that either he really is playing himself (I truly hope not) or he's nailed the part superbly. Elsewhere there's Jun Takeuchi who is mostly known as a video game producer. Millennium Mambo is an interesting film that somehow resonates more than perhaps it should.

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