I figured I’d be coming up against some of the odder films of the challenge when I got to Chad’s week – he’s got some of the more eccentric tastes in my main movie group on Facebook, and he didn’t disappoint.
Tsai Ming-liang’s 1998 take on the turn of the millennium in Taiwan has the city suffering from a strange virus that makes people act like roaches. The city is supposed to have been evacuated, but some residents are stubbornly staying behind, despite the epidemic and the accompanying breakdown of basic services. We’re focused on two people, a woman in a lower apartment that’s beset with constant leaking (a monsoon outside never lets up, providing an unrelenting buzz on the soundtrack) and the man who lives above her. A plumber fails to fix the leak, but manages to put a hole in the man’s floor/woman’s ceiling, connecting the two apartments and annoying the woman considerably.
There are lots of conventional ways you could see this going – a battle of the sexes farce, a romantic comedy, a voyeuristic thriller. The Hole does none of that, doubling down on the mundane to the point of surrealism. The man works at a shop in a market that once would’ve been bustling, but now is eerily empty. The woman hoards toilet paper, tries to mop up the flooding in her apartment, and dreams musical interludes in the style of 1950s Hong Kong musicals.
Incidentally, I had no idea these 1950s Hong Kong musicals even existed, but apparently they were quite popular, and the main character here is meant to evoke major 1950s star Grace Chang in these sections. Unsurprisingly, the musical interludes were my favorite part of the film, providing a welcome contrast to the drab, obscure, and slow-moving main story.
I’m not even sure what I think about the movie as a whole – I did like the ending, with the hole finally being breached after long last to bring the pair together, though to what end the film doesn’t totally make clear. I suspect if I knew more Tsai films, or more about Taiwan/Hong Kong film, I might’ve gotten more out of it. As it was, it kind of washed over me without really making me invested in it. Though I will say, it’s been a couple of days now, and images from it are really sticking with me.
I do really want to see some Grace Chang musicals now, though, if it’s possible to find any.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Tsai Ming-liang, screenplay by Tsai Ming-liang and Yang Pi-ying
starring Yang Kuei-Mei, Lee Kang-sheng
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Hole entered my chart:
The Hole > The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Hole < The Journey of Natty Gann
The Hole < Merlin
The Hole < No Way Out
The Hole < Tick Tock Tale
The Hole > Cache
The Hole < Going My Way
The Hole > The Hole
The Hole < And Then There Were None
The Hole < The Cat’s Meow
The Hole < Spartacus
The Hole < The Constant Nymph
Final #1754 out of 3654 (52%)
It is now my #1 Tsai Ming-liang film, my #12 Apocalyptic Film, my #56 Musical Romance, and my #23 film of 1998.
The Hole was recommended by Chad Hoolihan, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.
A few more screenshots…