Monday, February 5, 2007

Review of Good Men, Good Women

I am tempted to call Hou Hsiao-Hsien's style minimalist (a frequent label of most Taiwanese New Wave cinema), except that he doesn't so much strip down his images as much as he chooses not to distract the audience unnecessarily. This isn't always to focus just on the plot, but often to give us time to digest the image as a whole: the framing, composition, lighting and the posture or position of the actors. He compliments this nicely with gentle, steady camera movements which reframe the image and follow the action without the impression of an intrusive force. The use of long takes for almost every shot fits into the structure well and didn’t drag down the pacing for me possibly because the cuts that did exist were so high contrast (both visually and narratively), always setting down and picking up the multiple story threads with a regularity and naturalness that weaves them thoughtfully.

I particularly like Hsaio-Hsien's compositions, which are artful while feeling believable. The lighting is perhaps the element stressed most conspicuously. I liked his playful use of light's many possibilities including warped glass, lamp beads, disco balls, neon signs and colored club-lighting. His repeated method of lighting indoor scenes from a single soft source in the background (often outside, similar to films by Ozu, who is notably references in the second shot) or from overhead is unusual in the way it keeps most of what we can see in darkness. Often facial expressions or even the identity of characters are difficult to distinguish. Overall the lighting is what seems to lend the film a consistent visual feel, rather in past or present, B&W or color.

The blending of narratives worked especially well, drawing me in fairly equally to the contemporary “modern malaise” atmosphere of an actress (reminding me of Millennium Mambo) and the more overtly political-historical tale of her role. The characters stay fairly detached from the viewer due to the camera distance, ambiguity and episodic structure but one can feel the aura of the emotions onscreen even when not experiencing the emotions directly. I liked that the ending moves from the historical trauma of the past into the steady progress of the present (There is even a trace of redemption in Liang Ching's breakdown over the silent phone; at least verbalizing the sadness and confusion she has contained.) where Hou Hsaio-Hsien explicitly fixes his own film, and by extension our viewing of it, into a continuum of history both personal and political.

Walrus Rating: 9


Mad Dog said...

So exactly what is the movie about?

FilmWalrus said...

Ostensibly its about two parallel stories: An depressed actress with a stalker whose gangster boyfriend was killed three years earlier and the 1940's/50's communist revolutionary she portrays in a historical-biographical film. However, as with most Hou Hsiao-Hsien movies, the plot is one of these least important parts and many will find it very difficult to follow.

Mad Dog said...

Ah, so it's mostly about mood and technique then.