best film: In the Mood for Love from WKW
- The film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history—it may be my go to example now when discussing film form—along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Toyko Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch. In the Mood for Love is like a combination of Greenaway’s stylistic maximums and Jarmusch’s repetition (or theme and variation).
- A meditation on nostalgia- a love story of unrequited love (the best kind of cinematic love stories) like that of Casablanca.
- The violins in the score by as Mike Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi – repetition
- Formal genius- slow-motion sequences, triggered by the same violin musical score as they have chance encounters in the hallway, alley—smoke and rain—always at night. Nat King Cole repetition when they meet officially
- Their spouses faces are never shown- another formal choice—they are heard, phone calls, back of the hands, outside the doors- there’s no resolution—like Antonioni and L’Avventura– and we get a specific POV like Spielberg in E.T. showing adults (or not showing them) in a certain way
- Fate and chance—looking for a house on the same day, moving the same day—the word coincidence in the text no less than five times
- Use of floral arrangements in the production design and costume design patters
- elliptical—a feat of editing—we’re getting glimpses between the two like Pawlikowski’s Cold War. David Lean’s film is not elliptical- but we have to mention Brief Encounter.
- The Siemens clocks repetition (form), shallow focus on actors not one of the two main subjects
- Neon lights in abundance- actual lights as part of the mise-en-scene in foreground
- Like Chungking Express it is all night work—it’s a little abrasive when the day light surfaces
- A tone poem—clearly like a short story paced out to 98 minutes
- Wallpaper in the décor, loaded with mirrors, drapes, floral arrangement
- The scene of their tragic goodbye- posted on the brick wall with shadows—gorgeous mise-en-scene- shots of them leaning against the wall
- great scene of them shown blocked by doorway as camera glides between walls
- A masterpiece- one of cinema’s great works of art
most underrated: Both Traffic and American Psycho are woefully underrated, should be in the top 500, and yet cannot be found in the top 1000 on the TSPDT consensus list. Traffic is the stronger of the two that would be the most singularly underrated film from the ear 2000. I do not really understand why– but again Soderbergh does not currently have a film on the entire TSPDT list. I think, perhaps, it is unfairly categorized as an “issue” film (drugs here of course) like Crash (the 2004 film, not Cronenberg’s superior work) or Hotel Rwanda. These are films that every 8th grade social studies class should watch- but do not necessarily make for great art. This does not describe Traffic at all. Yes, Traffic is a complicated exposé, but it is also highly experimental both formally and visually.
- Mary Harron’s American Psycho took fifteen years to debut on the TSPDT top 1000 of the 21st century list. It now (as of the date writing this) sits at the lofty position of #283 (still underrated). It has been a fun ride for a worthy film and a promising sign that given a long enough timeline, the great films eventually rise to the top.
- American Psycho’s masterful script is mostly from Bret Easton Ellis savage (and highly controversial) novel. Harron gets credit for curating. She is smart to capture Patrick Bateman’s meticulously sick morning beauty routine via voice over (and this is one of the best voiceovers in in recent contemporary cinema). As Bateman nervously wonders if he’ll have a decent table at a restaurant “relief washes over” him “in an awesome wave.”- haha. To include all of the superior writing from American Psycho here would make my notes here on the film forty pages long.
- The narrative rolls along so smoothly. This shocking critique of the 1980s yuppie/Reagan-era materialism and Gordon Gekko greed (this is set in 1987- the year of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street) bounces from the legendarily epic business card scene to getting laughed at on the phone by the maître d’ at Dorsia (a fabulous doorway frame within a frame composition of Bateman’s rigidly cool apartment) to wild exchanges with his buddies (played by Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage) or private detective (Willem Dafoe). Late 1990s/early 2000s indie goddess Chloë Sevigny plays Bateman’s secretary Jean, and no less than three future Oscar winners are here in their 20s (Reese Witherspoon plays Bateman’s girlfriend and Jared Leto, in the same year as Requiem for a Dream, plays one of Bateman’s principal victims).
- Part of the social critique is the interchangeably of these Wall Street cyphers while Bateman’s insanity muddles the potential surrealism of these events (which keeps the wallop of an ending – the confession with the 1987 Reagan speech playing the background audio—open).
most overrated: The answer here in 2000 is Pedro Costa’s In Vanda’s Room. It lands at #561 on the TSPDT consensus list. There are a few other options for 2000 as well. Many great minds I admire (Bordwell chief amongst them) adore the work of Edward Yang so there may be a time here Yi Yi rises to the top of my list here for 2000 but for now, I cannot get behind the lofty ranking on TSPDT. Still, Yi Yi is a top five of the year quality film that just happens to be left out below on the top 10 through no fault of its own—but because 2000 is just such a ridiculously good year. This makes Costa’s work the pretty easy choice.
- There’s an interesting case to be made that In Vanda’s Room is a documentary. Much of Kiarostami’s work, including Close-Up, is similar. There’s actually a forward-moving narrative in Close-Up (though that is not the reason a film is or is not a documentary). Here the actors (including Vanda) are playing themselves, there is no story, it is shot on location and we’re capturing hours of authentic conversations. The lighting, the coloring, and setting is “controlled” (or chosen) by Costa and that is far and away his greatest triumph
- No musical score, observational
- Sort of Dogme 95 (this is Costa’s first work on video– the photography is almost defiantly unpretty) meets Harmony Korine’s Gummo. There’s trash everywhere, drug use is a constant, talk of babies in dumpsters, we probably spend 20 minutes watching/listening to Vanda cough (and in one case at least, vomit).
- A dark film, shot in these damp alleys, feels like it almost set in a shelter underground. The few scenes where we get daylight – your eyes almost have to adjust- one of the many ways Costa uses duration as a tool here- this is 170 minutes.
- The second film in his Fontainhas trilogy (Ossos in 1997, Colossal Youth in 2006). Set in a sort of hell on earth slum in Lisbon
- bleakness in visual approach and material—certainly matching
- the lighting makes Gordon Willis and Fincher look bright
- squalor and rubble— spiritually connected to Rossellini’s war trilogy —certainly Costa is most interested in setting—but there is no attempt really to make this beautiful here.
- By far the greatest aspect of the film is the almost hypnotic glow of the spotlight lighting surrounded by blackness. It has a green tint—consistent with Ossos (as much of it is—this is auteur cinema) along with actual green (beyond just the green tinting) peppered throughout the mise-en-scene. It is a purposeful color design.
- Recommend but not terribly close to the top 10 of 2000
trends and notables:
- There is no exact science behind this (and I haven’t categorized or awarded points by year to give me a fighting chance at doing it anways) but I would approximate that the year 2000 is the third best year in cinema history behind 1960 and 1939. It is that good. I said this in 2017 or so and that was before my discovery of Roy Andersson. There are other years, like 1982, that give me pause but I feel pretty good here. The year 2000 has everything. It has two films (maybe three) that look like they will stand the test of time living in the top 100 of all-time, fine depth beyond the top 10 (films from newcomers James Gray and Jonathan Glazer like The Yards and Sexy Beast) but it is really the fourteen (14) films that are either a Masterpiece, Must See or Hr/MS border that define the year’s greatness.
- Among those elite (testing the meaning of the word with that many listed I guess) fourteen films from 2000 is Darren Aronofsky’s second film (and second in the top 10 of its respective year) Requiem For a Dream and Christopher Nolan’s stunning first archiveable film (second film overall) Memento. Requiem makes Aronofsky a top auteur in 2000.
- Nearly as impressive is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s true debut Amores Perros. The film, and auteur, mark the third and final of the trio from the all important Nuevo Cine Mexicano movement.
- If one looks at 2000 as one of the best single years in cinema- one has to look at the greatest of the auteurs driving it. Like 1960 with Fellini, Godard, Bergman, Visconti, Kurosawa, Antonioni– 2000 features WKW, Roy Andersson, Bela Tarr, and Lars von Trier (Tarr and von Trier would be paired again in 2011 oddly enough). These are major artists making masterpieces (and for In the Mood for Love “masterpiece” almost sounds like an insult).
- In Werckmeister Harmonies Bela Tarr became one of the all-time great movers of the camera. The cinematography in the film rivals the best work of the greatest since the beginning of the artform: Murnau, Renoir, Ophuls, Tarkovsky, Scorsese and then Tarr. There are others of course (Cuaron is a modern master) but Tarr is up there. There are multiple shots in Werckmeister that are amongst the best of the decade including the long take opening shot. The grand cogitations in the narrative are bleaker than Kieslowski and less personal than Tarkvosky but I think both are fine comparisons. It’s hypnotic, haunting and elegiac and balanced by a transcendent jig score from Mihaly Vig.
- Soderbergh may not be in the class of WKW, Tarr, von Trier– and may have since been clearly passed by Nolan (age 30 in 2000) Aronofky (age 31), Roy Andersson (an outlier here- big breakthrough coming at age 57- closer to Haneke’s journey) and others but he is a substantial auteur and 2000 is his big year. He has been doing solid work since his debut in 1989 but he is still only 37 in the year 2000. Traffic is his greatest work, and Erin Brockovich is a top 10 of the year hit.
- Speaking of hits, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the biggest domestic smash of the year- but it is the film in third place, Gladiator, that really crosses over to those serious about film as it also wins the Best Picture Oscar at the academy and sort of revives the sword and sandal genre.
- With Edward Yang and Zhangke Jia’s Platform 2000 marks a big year for superior cinema in China as well.
- Cinema from around the globe is clearly very healthy in 2000. If you look at the top 10 below, there are nine (9) countries represented (going by birth of director). China, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, The United States, Canada, Britain, Mexico and Germany.
- The directors with first time archiveable films are mentioned above- Inarritu, Gray, and Glazer– but for actors it is actually a slightly more quiet year. However, 2000 does mark the first archiveable film for Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me where he is quite splendid in it.
best performance male: Tony Leung has to open here even if Christian Bale gets a mention in the same sentence. One, (Leung) is a major cog in one of the great films (and romances) of all-time. The other, (Bale) is revelatory (we already knew of Leung’s power before this) and challenges the sacred “director as artist” as his achievement in American Psycho may even greater than the director at the helm. Benicio del Toro does the best work of his career (as do Leung and Bale- which says much about 2000’s acting) in Soderbergh’s ensemble effort. Jared Leto and Guy Pearce are next for Requiem For a Dream and Memento respectively and neither has been as good since as they are here either. Ben Kinglsey is the one here outside of that top tier of films that finally deserves some love. He may have been the first man off the list in 1982 and 1993 with Gandhi and Schindler’s List so it only feels right to reward him for bat$hit tour de force turn as Don Logan in Glazer’s Sexy Beast. Lastly, though the works of Bela Tarr do not rely heavily on the performance of his actors, Lars Rudolph, playing János in Werckmeister Harmonies, feels like a worthy addition to the category.
best performance female: With all due respect to the gentlemen mentioned above, the best acting of the year probably lands in this category for 2000. There is a three way tie for the top slot. Maggie Cheung, Bjork and Ellen Burstyn all levitate. All three would be easy hands down winners in this category in just about any other year in cinema history. Cheung displays the melancholic pain of an unrequited romance in In the Mood for Love. Bjork’s performance in von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark mirrors Marie Falconetti’s epic performance in many ways. She is tortured- and it would be the final performance by both actresses (again thus far for Bjork). Burstyn is nearly thirty years removed from her greatest stretch of work (1971-1974 with The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and outdoes herself in the loud, manic performance required by Aronofky’s vision for Requiem For a Dream. She would not hold a candle to Burstyn, her costar in Requiem, but that is no insult to Jennifer Connelly who deservedly lands a slot here for her work. The last two mentions go to Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang for their work in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
- In the Mood for Love
- Werckmeister Harmonies
- Songs From the Second Floor
- Dancer in the Dark
- Requiem for a Dream
- American Psycho
- Amores Perros
- Code Unknown
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Almost Famous – Crowe||HR|
|American Psycho – Harron||MS|
|Amores Perros- Iñárritu||MS|
|Before Night Falls- Schnabel||R|
|Cast Away- Zemeckis||R|
|Chicken Run – Park, Lord||R|
|Chocolat – Hallström||R|
|Chopper – Dominik||R|
|Chuck & Buck- Arteta||R|
|Code Unknown – Haneke||MS|
|Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon- A. Lee||HR/MS|
|Dancer In the Dark- von Trier||MP|
|Erin Brockovich – Soderbergh||R|
|George Washington- Gordon Green||R|
|Gladiator- R. Scott||HR|
|High Fidelity- Frears||R|
|In the Mood for Love – WKW||MP|
|In Vanda’s Room – Costa||R|
|Memento – Nolan||MS|
|O Brother, Where Art Thou- Coen||HR/MS|
|Platform – Zhangke Jia||HR/MS|
|Quills- P. Kaufman||R|
|Requiem For A Dream – Aronofsky||MP|
|Sexy Beast- Glazer||HR|
|Shadow of a Vampire- Merhige||R|
|Songs From the Second Floor – Andersson||MP|
|The Circle- Panahi|
|The Contender- Lurie||R|
|The Gift – Raimi||R|
|The House of Mirth- Davies||HR|
|The Princess and the Warrior- Tykwer||R|
|The Road Home- Yimou Zhang|
|The Widow of Saint-Pierre- Leconte||R|
|The Yards – Gray||R/HR|
|Under the Sand- Ozon||R|
|Werckmeister Harmonies – Tarr||MP|
|Wonder Boys- Hanson||R|
|Yi Yi- Yang||MS|
|You Can Count On Me – Lonergan||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Since you consider 2000 to be the third best movie year, what do you consider to be the top ten Movie Years of All Time?
What other actors carry their films to MP status. like Bale here. Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Ledger (The Dark Knight). Chaplin with City Lights. Can an argument be made for Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy). What would your other picks be..
How about Hopkins and Foster in the Silence, Denzel in Malcolm X, Bergman in Casablanca, Keaton in Annie Hall, Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Rowlands in Woman Under the Influence, Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
@ Aldo. Great Choices here. Don’t think i can give Annie Hall to Keaton. That is Allen’s achievement first and foremost. Silence is an interesting one, don’t think it works without the close ups and that is a Demme speciality.
I think the most obvious one is Cagney in White Heat. Raoul Walsh’s camera is far from stagnant, but the film is a masterpiece almost entirely because of Cagney’s electrifying work in the cafeteria scene, the poignant scene where he’s leaning up against a tree and talking about his mother, and of course the unforgettable final scene. Bergman in Casablanca is a very unusual choice. Possibly the greatest screenplay ever written, the terrific subtle camera movements and slow dollies of Curtiz, not to mention an equally great performance from Bogart, fantastic work from Rains, Lorre, Greenstreet, the iconic soundtrack; an incredible performance, but she does not “carry” the film in any sense of the word.
Also, Do you think there are any similarities between Ledger (The Dark Knight) and Brando (Last Tango in Paris)??
Similarities in what?
If you mean that the movie suffers in the scenes that do not appear, you’re right, but I think Brando’s achievement is greater
Is Snatch unarchivable or have you not seen it yet? My friends praise it a lot and Brad Pitt is one of my favourite actors but if it’s unarchivable according to you, I may skip watching the movie.
Hey drake, I just recently saw 2 2000 films by guys (The heart of the world by guy madin and snatch by guy Ritchie).
The heart of the world by Guy madin is a short, but a really well made silent film montage style 6 minute short with same ‘vibe’/editing. A good little watch for someone who appreciates the silent area but since it’s a short, I won’t talk about it more.
Here’s what i will like to talk about.
Snatch by Guy Ritchie on the other hand was quite well made in my opinion. Really complex story, some good acting, some really great scenes and good editing throughout. Great snappy dialogue as well. Good music. Some good formal repitition(with the stamps and coming to England for example). Few great visuals too (the burning caravan for example). The boxing scenes are (among)a standout. Of course it’s not raging bull, but quite well made for sure (the editing infused with music, acting, lighting etc) I think the movie can be at least an R. What are some of the reasons you thought it wasn’t good enough for the archives?
Again, I’m not trying to be rude at all, just curious as to if im overrating certain aspects of the film or glossing over some of the bad aspects that you may have seen and I missed.
Drake, do you think shyamalan’s Unbreakable is close to being archiveble?
I saw American Psycho today.
I thought it was a satire on capitalism/materialism, wealth, mental illness, competiveness, masculinity and narcissism.
The screenplay was excellent and so was the acting.
Would you recommend American Psycho 2?
@Azman – watched American Psycho for the first time in a while and can say it’s one of those movies that seems to improve on each subsequent watch. The initial shot of Batemans apartment is great camera movement. It’s also a very funny movie, just in the absurdity of the consumerism and the way Bateman talks about his favorite albums like he was reading off a Wikipedia page.
I definitely agree with you on its focus on masculinity and competition amongst men, the ridiculous obsession with business cards, getting reservations at top tier restaurants, getting the best clients, etc.
It’s an interesting comparison with a movie like Wall Street (1987) but obviously much darker.
Have you seen Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale?
It’s one of the Asian movies that Tarantino has essentially canonized by declaring a masterpiece. I usually share his taste for movies, particularly Asian ones.
What do you think of michelle yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Yeah.. Completely forgot about Zhang Ziyi. She was even better.
When you update this page will Maggie and Tony jump-up to the first spot in their respective categories?
@Drake- loaded indeed. But if you give Tony the top honor & not Maggie, I’ll be upset. Maggie’s iconic performance is much more than just great acting, it’s a physical performance. Its arguably the most idiosyncratic performance in the history of cinema. Honestly When i think of WKW cinema, a woman wearing cheongsam, walking in slow motion comes to my mind. And as good as Burstyn is , she already got your crown in 1973 & Maggie being #34 GOAT has earned a top honor in a top 15 of all time film in which arguably gives the best performance.
@M*A*S*H – I don’t see what makes it a more idiosyncratic performance than, off the top of my head, Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo, Jean-Paul Belmondo (RIP) in Breathless, Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon Amour, Toshiro Mifune in anything, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Bjork in Dancer in the Dark (same year as this, 2000) or Nina Pens Rode in Gertrud. I’d like to understand your thinking, however, if you’re willing to expound about it.
@Zane- first of all I’ll like to clear that i said “Its arguably the most idiosyncratic performance in the history of cinema” In excitement. The truth is that its “one of the most”.
So one of the main reasons why it’s idiosyncratic is that It was fully improvised and there was no script. So the character you see on screen is equal part Maggie’s creation. And WKW uses her as both a great actress & a beautiful woman. It’s equally dependent on her looks. Sometimes it’s not only about talent. It’s also about looks. Like all Giulietta Masina performances or Sally Hawkins in the shape of water. Many other actresses can give equally gr8 performances but all of them don’t have specific looks required for the film.
I do think there’s a thin line b/w an idiosyncratic performance & a performance being so good so perfect that it’s hard to imagine someone else in the role.
Drake, I have seen Yi Yi. It was staggering. I’d like to give it some time to sit, but I don’t see how it can’t end up in the Top 50 of all-time, and that’s really significant since that would make it the first film I’ve dropped directly into my Top 100 list since making it, though I’m still considering doing the same for Ordet. I will of course be posting about it in the next few days, and I might even watch A Brighter Summer Day again if I have time but no promises. I do hope you will consider studying Edward Yang soon.
Drake could u explain to me what film form is as opposed to a films technical aspects. I never quite understood. If anyone else knows please let me know
film form- Meaning in a film is patterned; we speak of such patterning as a film’s form. Form can be defined as the total system of relationships at work in the film. These relationships are ones between parts and elements, be they stylistic or narrative entities.
You have American Psycho here as an MS but I recall you referring to it as an MP earlier. Has it been downgraded?
@Haider – Yes, I still think it is marvelous- but I moved it down. I have a page coming for it in the next few days.
Obviously I got no issues with your top male performances. Tony Leung and Christian Bale are the first 2 mentioned and my top 2 easily. But I have to say Tom Hanks performance in Cast Away is quite something. Admittingly it’s a fine film that’s obviously not in the same class as the top 10, especially the top 5. None the less it’s quite an impressive showing from Hanks basically carrying 75/80 percent of the film as a one man show while keeping you engaged. Not an easy task but Hanks manages to pull it off. Highly rewatchable.
In the most underrated section, the sentence “This does not describe Traffic at” is missing an “all” at the end, and American Psycho is not bolded.
@Graham – appreciate the help. The Traffic grammar error is fixed. I do not bold the sort of runner ups in the underrated section usually so leaving the other one.
Those with a keen eye will note that, within bullet point #1 under the “Trends and Notables” section and in between sentence #3 (ending with “discovery of Roy Andersson”) and sentence #4 (beginning with “There are other years”), Drake forgot to include the sentence “it’s also before my future discovery of Edward Yang.”
WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?! WHEN?!
Have you seen In the Mood For Love, the 2021 restoration? And by the way sorry in advanced if you’ve answered this question before I was not sure. Some have criticized some of the restorations particularly the changes in color tone. Personally I love the restorations, bought the World of Wong Kar Wai box set. However, I will admit that of all 7 of films in the box set In the Mood For Love was my least favorite in terms of the changes in colors and color tones. Don’t get me wrong it’s still absolutely gorgeous but I can understand why some die hard WKW fans were upset by these changes. And obviously In the Mood for Love is the most popular WKW film along with Chungking Express so even in a scenario where fans may have liked the changes to the rest of the films, if they did not like the changes to In the Mood For Love then this would likely outweigh their opinions about the rest of the films.
@James Trapp- I have not seen the 2021 restoration
Do you plan on giving Edward Yang/Yi Yi a rewatch. I’m pretty surprised that you don’t have it as a MP. I can’t think of many films where it felt like every frame was symbolic while still being seemless formally. I’d be curious to hear more of what you think of the film.
@Matthew- Thanks for the comment. I do look forward to the next rewatch of Yi Yi.
@Drake-American Psycho(2000) has a page but it isn’t hyperlinked or bolded.
@Drake-What do you think about X-Men(2000)?
Always liked it. The relationship between McKellen and Stewart were really great and also that innovative ending with McKellen being put in a glass prison and Stewart walking off. And there isn’t much of the CGI nonsense and supernatural things that plague the rest of the films. There is a story here. Is there any chance of it making the archives? Would love to see it.
@Anderson- I think this sounds reasonable. I saw them all in 2017 and 2018- I do think “recommend” is the ceiling for them.
@Drake-Yes. But is there any chance of X-Men(2000) making the archives? Logan(2017) is the only one in the archives if I’m not wrong. I get why it is there even though I didn’t like the last part. But I liked X-Men(2000) more. Maybe a good ending is the reason.
@Anderson- I’d say no on X-Men- probably not.
Gallery: https://imgur.com/a/M6qC6EF (woefully incomplete as I found out when rewatching some of the scenes to write this)
– Yang’s final film and one of the first major cinematic achievements of the 21st century, he won Best Director at Cannes for this.
– He strikes gold in the repeating shots; there are so many cinematic paintings here that consist of shots of large windows, with people on the other side of those windows, and other things behind the camera reflected on those windows. Yang pays great attention to these shots throughout the film often going as far as to use famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower remake in Tokyo reflected on the glass.
– Gloriously set interior shots – Yang just totally loads them with tables, chairs, couches, rugs, lamps, clocks, wall paintings, plants, newspapers, DVRs really putting us in the middle class world of his gaze.
– Yang has had better individual frames but the one shot with Elaine Jin looking out through her office window – that’s one of those with the city reflected against it I talk about just above – as the lights in the office are completely dark and they slowly and gradually turn on behind her is maybe the best complete shot of his career.
– Another great shot early on is at the hospital and Wu is talking to a nurse in a hallway and the camera draws backward into a wider room, slowly pitching rightward as Wu’s brother-in-law comes into the room and then back leftward stopping at some mirrored doors and then the camera holds on the doors with their reflections.
– One especially hysterical bit is one between young Jonathan Chang, playing the son of the family in the film, and his teacher who despises him. Chang is playing with a balloon early in the film which is actually a condom, which he doesn’t know about. A hall monitor Chang is attracted to informs that he has a condom with him so the teacher tries to punish him in class for having it, but upon finding that Chang has no idea it’s not a balloon he lets him off. This all comes back as Chang and his friends fill up the condom with water and drop it on the teacher’s head in a hilarious episode.
– More parallel editing, but this time unlike The Terrorizers it’s less derivative (still exceptionally strong in his 1986 film) of other directors and feels more homegrown. Leading up to the great forest sequence we get a crosscutting montage as the daughter is connecting with her friend’s boyfriend (who her friend cheated on) all as Wu and his own lover are reconnecting in Japan. This goes beyond cutting as well, with even the sound interspersed between the two scenes on a separate plane – elliptical like Tarkovsky or somebody – as you can hear in the film the daughter is still speaking for a brief moment as we begin the forest scene she is not a part of and it does go further than that within the various edits but that’s just one example of it.
– Another really good edit here is a sonic match cut around the midpoint of the film; in a really funny vignette (due in large part to Yang throwing it at us completely out of context, which will arrive much later on in the film) with Kelly Lee’s friend, the one dating Fatty who is the guy Lee herself ends up going out with in the film, we watch as Lee goes to see her friend but comes upon chaos in her apartment building, we’re watching from her POV through the door into the apartment as her friend, her friend’s mother, and her friend’s music teacher are all running wild through the apartment as the mother and music teacher are buttoning up their clothes and trying to calm down the hysterical friend. This fails completely and the friend briefly starts screaming a piercing high note before we rapidly cut away to Wu’s brother-in-law Chen Hsi-sheng’s (who Wu works at the same company as) infant daughter crying after being born; this is just a really great match cut with the sounds here and a perfect way to transition between these two scenes.
– The events of the film are really kicked off – Elaine Jin’s (the mother of the family) departure to the retreat, Jonathan Chang getting his camera, Kelly Lee’s ennui, the slow deterioration of Chen, and Wu’s decision to go see Sherry again – by the grandmother character being injured at the beginning of the film and falling into a coma. Yang will formally throw in the same sequences of the characters, particularly her children Jin and Chen as well as Kelly Lee, all trying to talk with the grandmother even though she will not respond as the doctor (whose advice Jin follows to a T) recommended they do this to keep her soul alive. I should need another viewing to confirm this since I’m only thinking of this now but I wonder if the departure of Jin to the retreat and Chen’s various life failures over the course of the film, which prevent them from being with their mother to speak with her as the doctor recommended contribute to the grandmother dying. Lee especially is broken over her grandmother as at the beginning she is taking trash out to the trashcans but is distracted by seeing her friend and friend’s boyfriend down on the street below their apartment and doesn’t take out the final trash bag, so the grandmother resolves to do so later, slips out by the trashcans and falls into her coma as Lee failed to take out the trash herself.
– Anyone who’s seen me talk about Yi Yi before probably came into this knowing I was going to talk about the forest temple sequence. It’s one of those scenes that sticks itself in your mind long after you’ve watched it like the ending (I actually mean the entire runtime) at the bridge of Touch of Evil or the repetitive games of Nim (the stick game) in Last Year at Marienbad. It’s a powerful visual sequence with Wu and his girlfriend Sherry enveloped in this gorgeous mazey Japanese temple, 6 shots in 3 minutes as they reflect with a charged melancholy – Antonioni’s influence – on their lost time together after he broke off their affair 30 years prior. The years of lost love and passion are spoken as whispers with their distance from the camera but every word feels like a shout of anger as we witness the two alone in eachother’s company for the first time in decades, still eachothers’ soul mates with her more emotional yin being balanced out by Wu’s more reserved and collected, but still equally as dynamic Yang (yes, I just said that). It’s very rare that I ever revisit scenes in films and yet time and time again I find myself pulling up the film on the Criterion Channel to watch this scene again. This scene packs even more of a punch when you watch it again having already seen out to the end of the film knowing how it all ends. If there’s one scene from this film that you could realistically turn into a short film, this is the one. It stands out to me to such a degree from every other scene in the film, communicated so well with the foresty, rural decor contrasting to the rest of the film in the urban metropolis of Taipei.
– Lots of narrow doorway shots particularly when they’re heading into the grandmother’s bedroom emphasizing how hard it is to go in there for them.
– Lee’s sequences with her friend and the friend’s boyfriend (Fatty is his name), visually influenced by Jeanne Moreau traversing Milan in La Notte, are also worthy of mention in the film. It’s set up here at the beginning that Lee has some unrequited love for Fatty with how often she watches the two from afar and Lee’s friend uses her (I actually mean exploits) to deliver letters to Fatty and from Fatty back to her after they separate for a while, but later on as Lee walks down the street she always sees Fatty at he runs after her with a letter, but here it’s for her. They begin an affair of their own, but when he cannot consummate with her (a really strong long take in a hotel room of the two standing in there staring at their shoes not doing anything before he runs out) they no longer see eachother and later on Lee sees Fatty back with the friend again which increases the sadness she feels throughout all of the film
– Begins with Chen’s wedding, in the middle his daughter is born, at the end we are at the funeral of his mother, the grandmother. Love, life, death.
– Wu is very reserved here, his face always expresses little relative to the pose of his body (which is amplified by Yang often shooting him from behind instead of in front of him), it’s a really good performance actually; his brother-in-law Chen on the other hand is a bit of a joker, always laughing and bringing humor to the scenes he’s in but he is also extremely irresponsible, he is constantly taking loans he can’t pay back from Wu and his old lover and at a baby shower for his new child the lover shows up and there’s a confrontation between her and the new wife that Chen is unable to control and it really throws the relationship with the wife into disarray.
– I really like Fatty randomly going on this aggravated verbal assault on Lee as she walks back home after their affair ends, which at first we assume is because he’s angry at her over his impotence but before long something else happens that shows another thing entirely has been what caused him to have his outburst, and it was not out of anger at Lee but to make sure he did not drop out of verbal harassment and into something more physically aggressive.
– Issey Ogata plays a Japanese businessman who Wu is trying to get to invest in his company and they become close friends; the pretext for the trip to Japan with his girlfriend was to meet with Ogata there (and he does still do that of course). Out of all the characters in the film (and perhaps of Yang’s entire career) I think he is the one that stands out the most against the others. He comes across as some kind of old wise master always speaking words of great wisdom conveyed with wonderful stories about his past, in perfectly cadenced English that gives a melodic tone to his sentences, like this one about a great magician Ogata would always watch, andt who refused to reveal the secrets behind his tricks yet Ogata managed to learn them anyway (which he demonstrates to Wu in a nice little scene). Ogata is the only person Wu lets in on his past with Sherry and the reasons why he left her without a word so long ago, demonstrating the trust they have together, and I could watch an entire film that’s just these two talking about their lives their chemistry together on screen is just so strong, but Ogata stands on his own here as well of course like in the great scene of him playing the piano like a drunken madman at the club they first meet at (the bartender is so entertained by Ogata’s performance on the piano that he tells Wu to bring him again later). I would assume Scorsese had to have been impressed by Ogata here as he picked him up for a role in Silence as well.
– Both parents leave their children for long periods of time: Jin goes to her mountain retreat with the monks or whatever (Yang never takes us there ourselves) so she can collect her sanity while she comes to terms with her mother’s impending death and Wu is sent by the company to meet with Ogata again in Japan and he stays there for a while meeting with Sherry along the way.
– All three main characters have forbidden love interests, Sherry (Wu is married), Fatty (Lee’s best friend’s boyfriend), and the hall monitor (she abuses Chang). The first two affairs end as easily as they started and the last never even kicks off.
– Neon lights in a number of scenes, the nightclub, shopping districts of Taipei, also Japan
– It’s poetic for Wu to have been the one to cut off Sherry in their first affair long before the film takes place without a word but in their second it is she who does it leaving him now with the thoughts of what could be. It’s not just the poetry though, it’s an impressive way for Yang to set up that outcome of their renewed relationship.
– Love the inexplicable plant Kelly Lee gets for a school project that never grows and she’s constantly staring at it in her hands whenever she’s contemplating in her room on how things in her life are going
– Every scene with the young Jonathan Chang is so funny and playful, I see a bit of a Felliniesque Amarcord-like influence on Yang here. You’ve got the attraction to the hall monitor who wants nothing to do with him (Magali Noel), the antagonistic relationship with the teacher who he pours the condom water bottle on (pretty much the entirety of the distrust of authority there from the lackluster priest’s advice and the piss tube in the classroom), we even get a scene where Chang and the hall monitor are in a theater together just like Amarcord (but here it’s a weather observatory instead of Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco) and there’s strange creative meaningless (but awesome) episodes like Chang going out with his camera and taking pictures of a bunch of people for absolutely no reason and with no seeming artistic drive, and with which Yang later hits us with the formal payoff of Wu discovering his son’s photos and finding they’re all pictures of the backs of people’s heads (which you see referenced in the Blu-Ray release poster of the film). Yang really divides the three major plotlines into 3 genres like this: Wu (drama), Lee (melodrama), and Chang (comedy-drama), and never do they come across as conveying weird tonal shifts with how well Yang maneuvers through the long runtime.
– Really great scene about an hour into the film after Wu’s first meeting with Ogata at the club where he calls Sherry in his office with all the lights off, the shot is totally black and Yang holds the camera still for minutes on end as Wu barely moves and we only hear his voice as he’s on the phone with his soul mate and he apologizes for his abrupt departure from her life all those years ago, the lines are very well-delivered with the quiet tone of voice over the phone.
– What blows my mind the most about the film is that it really is just Yang filming life. I mean you forget that you’re in the world of a film while you’re watching it because their lives are so intentionally normal and the characterizations not larger than life, it feels like Wu could really be a coworker you talk to every day and Kelly Lee or Jonathan Chang just another face in your classroom. This may sound like it would be monotonous but not with the way Yang frames his shots and the deep character relationships that are built throughout the film, it’s a tightly-knit family that has to survive at all costs through these many great hardships, these are really well-formed characters.
– With all due respect to Soderbergh, Aronofsky and Inarritu this is the best epic multi-storyline film of 2000
– Chang refuses to talk to his grandmother like the rest of his family until he’s at her funeral where he tells her about the hopes he has to change things in the world he lives in and that his inability to speak to her gives him the same feeling as his inability to speak to his new cousin, Chen’s child. He mentions that grandma told him she felt old and that he hopes he can tell his cousin, when he comes of age, that he feels he is old too. We wait so long throughout the film for Chang to really speak up about how he feels with how much he is talked down to by those older than him that it is impactful when he finally does.
I think Cliff Martinez should also be mentioned among the many talented people who delivered their best work in 2000. As much as I love his scores for Only God Forgives and Solaris, he peaks in Traffic. This track in particular, “Helicopter” gets played at least like four times in the film, its mesmerising on its own but it also the perfect fit the day for night blue US scenes of the film with how smooth and cool it is; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogDj3uXLP7w&ab_channel=ricardotapia.
@Harry- Love this Harry- good share. Thank you
Drake have you seen A Dog’s Will? I haven’t but it’s actually #3 on the Letterboxd top 250 (user rating oriented)
@Matthew- I have not, have not heard of this one actually
Until now, same, oddly enough
Drake, I’m curious if you watched Snatch again and what were your thoughts of it? Is it unarchivable? I haven’t seen it in a few years, but a friend mentioned it recently and I may watch it again.
@George- I have not had the opportunity to catch it again yet