Vive L’Amour is my first Tsai Ming-liang. I’ll probably find out in the future if this was the right place to start with his filmography, but I don’t do deep dives. Anyway, Tsai uses images over dialogue, as a good filmmaker should. His camera is straightforward but the world he captures is just the right kind of askew. Viewers can see this in one of those said images, that of a young man. That young man is Hsiao-ang (Lee Kang-sheng), and content warning, he’s trying to slit his wrists. This is not a good thing to do in anyone’s apartment, but it’s definitely the wrong thing to do in someone else’s apartment. See, this Taipei-set story has Hsiao-ang stealing the keys to an apartment belonging to a woman, Mei (Yang Kuei-Mei).
Hsiao-ang sneaks in when Mei’s off working a real estate market with prices that make Toronto seem cheap. When she’s there, she brings over her lover, Ah-jung (Chen Chao-jung). Hsiao-ang then sneaks in at the same time as Ah-jung, and both agree to be friends and not saying anything to Mei. It’s funny to read other reviews of this film calling the apartment small. I’ve been in two storey condos and this apartment is bigger.
This apartment is big enough for the young man to do different things to an unripe watermelon, or to try on dresses while doing pushups. Also, why do one of the beds not have sheets? There is a whole subreddit that is basically this film’s premise. I hope the DVD/Blu re-release of this has a floor plan of the apartment. And that’s because the film depicts this apartment in an obtuse way, but a good kind of obtuse. As a side note, both Yang and Chen also appear in Eat Drink Man Woman, and it’s nice to see them shine here. Yang’s final scene requires stamina that she delivers.
Apparently, this is Tsai’s second full length feature, the first being about adolescents. Vive L’Amour focuses on a slightly older demographic, all of them can pass as either 14 year olds or 29 year olds. He uses these three characters to capture the alienation and impostor syndrome that people in their twenties feel. I’m a 90s kid who watched films like this but with training wheels. But it’s always nice to remember that every generation felt the same things that mine did.
I also don’t know what other viewers get when they watch this, but it’s funny to me that the other male characters are also in sales. Hsiao-ang works in the afterlife business and Ah-jung works as one of those guys who sell dresses on illegal set-ups. The latter is distinctly Asian and I like films that take me back to the old continent. Same goes with the barbecue stands.
In imagining these characters’ lives, this film uses imagery that I’d imagine in art films, not that that’s a bad thing. Characters go on drives, the roads and cityscapes expressing loneliness. The same kind of loneliness as it would had the camera cut to their faces. Lights get blurry, adding to the film’s subtly surreal effects.
Film Movement is releasing Vive L’Amour both in art house theatres in New York and in their streaming platform, and it’s one that more people should revisit. That re-release, by the way, is March 18, 2022. Don’t miss this if you want to watch something weird. Lastly, everyone’s jackets look great. Remember when people had the confidence to wear baggy clothing?