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What Time Is It There (R)
Official Site
Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Producer: Bruno Pesery
Written by: Tsai Ming-Liang and Yang Pi-Ying
Cast: Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lu Yi-Ching

Rating: out of 5

I am not a religious man. However, during the screening of Tsai Ming-Liang’s latest film, What Time is it There, I began to pray. I prayed for the roof to cave in, for the screen to catch fire, for a crazed gunman to burst in and pepper the room with gunfire. I prayed for anything to happen that would distract me from the mind-numbingly boring movie that I was sitting through at the moment. You may be thinking that I’m, shall we say, overreacting a bit. Well, let’s break it down.

Here’s the plot: Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) is a watch vendor on the streets of Taipei, Taiwan. His father has just died, and his mother (Lu Yi-Ching) is freaking out, desperately clinging to the idea that her husband will return in spirit form. Life, in essence, is not full of sunshine and roses. While on the job, Kang has a brief encounter with Shiang-Chyi (Chen Shiang-Chyi) where he sells her a watch, and she tells him she’s moving to Paris. Unable to cope with his mother going bat-shit, he begins to obsess over this shared moment with a stranger, manifesting his longing by setting all the clocks he can find to Paris time. Now, as far as plots go, it’s not terrible, I’ll give it that. I think that with a better director, I could have actually enjoyed seeing a movie that contained the above storyline. The movie gets into trouble with its execution, overseen by director Tsai Ming-Liang.

Ming-Liang is the most self-indulgent, misguided, you’ll-love-it-because-it’s-ART director I’ve seen in a long time. To give you an idea of what we’re looking at, let’s analyze a few scenes of the movie:

Scene 1: A man smokes for three or four minutes. End of Scene.

Scene 2: A man sits in his car and eats for three or four minutes. End of Scene.

Scene 3: A woman stares off into space and cries a little for at least five minutes. END OF SCENE!

The whole film is riddled with this. In fact, there are no camera movements in the entire run of the film. It consists solely of static shots that last for a minimum or two and a maximum of six or seven minutes, most of the time containing nothing more than a person lying in bed or standing on a street corner. Now, I know that some people see this as a “bold, artistic choice” and, granted, it is pretty bold to have almost zero action in your movie. However, I subscribe to the school of thought that states that a movie must have at least something in it to hold the audiences attention or it officially becomes a waste of everyone’s time.

And what’s even more frustrating about What Time is it There is the fact that, as I stated above, the plot really had the potential to be entertaining. In particular, the plotline about the mother stubbornly waiting for the return of her dead husband’s spirit really grabbed me. However, when things would start to get interesting, when I thought Ming-Liang had finally stopped dicking around and cut to the plot, he’d switch to another in the long line of one-shots of a character drinking tea. In my book, sacrificing a film’s plot in order to make room for more of your own artistic masturbation is one of the bigger cinematic sins a director can commit.

I can tell you now that my opinion on this movie will not be a popular one. Ming-Liang has made a film that is, if nothing else, tailored directly to critics everywhere who live and die by the “Long + Foreign + Boring = Masterpiece” equation. Hell, I don’t know. Maybe What Time is it There is a brilliant masterpiece that will reshape the landscape of modern cinema, and I’m just too much of a hillbilly to understand it. When others watch this, they may see a golden example of a true artist. Personally, all I see here is a director so full of his own “vision,” he forgot to turn off the camera. And again, I pray that there are others who see this too.

—Clinton Davis


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