We all go through life wondering where we’re going in it. We always question our life choices; whether we’re actually living or just simply going through the motions. A lot of filmmakers have tackled these particular themes of directionless and lost souls just drifting. In his own specific way, renowned Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien has done just that with his misunderstood but no less hypnotic 2001 tale Millennium Mambo.
Vicky (an impossibly beautiful Shu Qi) simply wanders through her life while the vast metropolis of Taipei seems to literally swallow her up. To make matters even more doubtful, she’s trapped in a pointless relationship with her awful DJ boyfriend Hao-Hao, and a nonchalant job as a bar hostess. When she actually escapes Hao-Hao, she ends up in the arms of Jack, a sensitive but criminal gangster, but even this newfound sort-of romance ends up going nowhere, which leaves Vicky’s future even bleaker than it already has been.
On the surface, the film seems redundant and a little distant from Vicky, but if you’re willing to go deeper into it, you may find yourself connecting with her because in this world there are people who just like her, who go through one worthless situation after another until they find themselves in the crossroads of their lives and wondering if they’re ever going to out of the slumps they may have created for themselves. Honestly, I feel the same way about my own life, so I actually connected to Vicky and her vanished nonexistence.
This is considered to be a minor Hsiao-Hsien film, but I bet there might be film buffs who actually gravitate towards it, especially because of Shu Qi, whose beauty and immense appeal is evident right from the start, including the rather famous opening scene where she journeys down an empty skywalk, hair blowing with vigor and her lit cigarette (which she always has throughout the film). This is actually the only time in her character’s life where she’s free.
If you give Millennium Mambo a chance, I think you’ll probably find a lot to admire about it. It’s not a completely flawless watch, but it’s a lyrical and subtle film about complicated youth and the often-meaningless troubles they put their lives through.
Special features from Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray include a re-release trailer; a video essay by film critics Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez; and commentary by Rolling Stone film critic K. Austin Collins.