Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Lyrical and Meditative Films of two 21st Century Masters

Looking over significant films of the 21 century on They Shoot Pictures, East Asia makes a prominent showing. While Japanese cinema has been internationally admired since the 1950's, the works of other East Asian nations have not caught on until recently.

Looking over significant works of recent history, names like Wong Kar Wei, Zhang Yimou, Jia Zhangke, Ming Liang Tsai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are common. The last two of these directors will be the focus on this blog. For ease and my own sanity, I will refer to Apichatpong Weerasethakul as Fred (I'm not the first to call him this).

The films of Fred and Tsai have a great deal of common elements and represent a movement of hyper realism in terms of characters and mise en scene. however, both of their films contain supernatural or fantastical elements that gives their films an ethereal film.

In the film "What Time is it There?" a brief encounter between a woman and a man selling watches in Taiwan spurns a mysterious connection. The two of them have parallel experiences while he is in Taiwan and she is in Paris.

What is most fascinating about film is the juxtaposition of the two films. First, the woman goes to Paris in the winter and for a large portion of the film, is tucked into tight, claustrophobic, and bleak places not indicative of the city of lights. At the end of the film are scenes finally shot in Luxembourg and the Paris of lore comes alive. Though the garden is cold and the crowd is sparse.

While in Taiwan, the man continues to sell watches, deals with a mother who cannot her husband's death, and takes an interest in french culture. In fact, through most of the film, the man is seen doing more Parisian things than the woman. Also, the colors of the Taiwan scenes feature more vibrant reds and colors than those shot in Paris.

In one of my favorite juxtapositions of the film, the man watches Francois Truffaut's seminal film The 400 Blows starring Jean Pierre Leaud. Meanwhile in Paris, the woman encounters the real Jean Pierre in an inspired cameo.

The film is purposely disjointed and almost entirely free of dialogue which is a common theme in many of Tsai's films.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (pronounced ah-pah-chee-ta-pong weere-ah set-ah-cuhl) aka Fred's films are similar to Tsai. Looking at his film, Tropical Malady, one sees symbolism of love, frustration, happiness, and a confusing disjointed vision of man's struggle against himself.

The first hour of the film is a love story between two men in Thailand. It is sweet and the story is fairly linnear. With not enough of words, the love develops and then, one of the men disappear into the forest and the other one goes in to find him.


What follows in the next hour is a man's battle with a mysterious naked man which I take to represent love and the carnal duality of emotions buried within men. The theme of men as beasts was clearly delinneated in the early portions of the film in dialogue. The beast literally comes to life in the final frames in the form of a glowing tiger speaking in a strange tongue.

The battles in the forest could also be taken as allegorical referring to Jacob wrestling with the angel. The fight of Jacob symbolizes wrestling with his feelings about the lord and his own personal faith. Given that love is a leap of faith, I think this could be a logical point.

These are just two films by these great auteurs and are absolutely necessary watching for those who want to delve into the great of the 21st century. Yes, they are slow and many will consider them boring but like many of the movies I discuss on this blog should not be watched to escape or to enjoy but to experience in the same way that one views modern abstract art.