Monday, November 10, 2008

In Depth Review: Vive L'Amour

Vive L'Amour (1994, Ming-Lang Tsai)

A retail estate agent named May Ling, played with surprising elegance and ease by Muei-Mei Yang, lives day in and day out by performing the same drill with potential buyers. Her life isn’t glamorous in the least, but she gets by nonetheless. Early in the film she encounters a street vendor named Ah-jung (Chao-jung Chen). He may not be getting ahead too much in the world, but he’s making some money, he’s handsome and confident. What’s not to like for a girl? Together they make love in one of the apartments Ling is trying to sell. Ah-jung doesn’t have a home however. After their initial love making session, he steals one of the keys to the apartment and sleeps there at night without her knowledge. All the while this has been happening, a urn seller, Hsiao-kang (Kang-shen Lee), has already stolen one of the keys to the same apartment and sleeps in one of the other rooms. Eventually Hsiao-kang and Ah-jung cross paths one night and even befriend one another, although Ah-jung naver makes mention of Hsiao-kang to May Ling.

Vive L’Amour is a funny and admittedly odd movie. Is there a real point to this exercise? Perhaps not, but sometimes telling a fun story, which involves a solid script/dialogue and convincing acting is more than sufficient. I never even tried to think about what the overarching themes of the film were because I was having too much fun with the characters to begin with. All three are perfectly individual and fleshed out enough for the viewer to understand them and maybe even relate. All three are going through different stages of their lives and are living in their society in different ways, yet their stories connect and resonate. When put together in this same film, the results are not only satisfying on a psychological level, but on entertaining level as well. The acting is strong across the board. There really isn’t a weak link to be found. Both male leads are engaging are more than competent but if I may, I would give special mention to Muei-Mei Yang as the real estate agent. She shows a range that I think few actresses or actors can pull off with such conviction. She playful with her new boyfriend, tired, engaging but at times apparently bored when given giving her clients a guided tour of the various apartments under her charge. Given that I don’t ever watch any Taiwanese films, I had never heard of her, but she’s on my radar now.

A word of caution however. For those who may be sold on the movie based on what I have written thus far should understand that the story takes its time developing. The pace is deliberately slow. This may be an immediate turn off for some movie watchers, but for those who enjoy movies in which the plot and character relations are allotted the time to grow and mature, regardless of how long it may take, will be rewarded for their time. Nor is this a typical romance comedy. In fact, I'm not even sure if this a romance film or a comedy for that matter, despite their being a relationship between May and Ah-jung and a few scenes that I laughed very, very hard at. One scene in particularly which has May Ling resting on the bed before a client arrives while Hsiao-kang sneaks out from underneath caught me by surprise not only because I didn’t know that he was hiding there, but because I never expected to find such comedic gold in the film. For all intents and purposes, Vive L’Amour cannot be pigeon holed into a specific category of film, and all the better for it. That last time I was similarly hit by a movie was a few months ago when I watched Targets from Peter Bogdanovich. Several film styles are meshed into one single story with the film being quite strong because of it. The lessons I learned? Twofold: a) to look under the bed whenever I get back home after work or when I’m going to have sex b) not to underestimate Taiwanese cinema.

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