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On the eve of the millennium, Taipei suffers a mysterious contagion— an exaggerated form of the waterlogged urban alienation rampant in earlier Tsai films. As Tsai's usual protagonist (boyish Lee Kang-sheng) sleeps in his underwear on the couch, a single woman in a black slip (Yang Kuei-mei, who played a similar role in his Vive l'Amour) mops the floor of the flooded apartment below. Rain is pouring down and something is leaking. Just as the radio reports that the city's water is contaminated, the woman's ceiling cracks. This hole will become the focal point for the relationship between these neighbors— the nexus for an eroticism both languorous and queasy.

The Hole is even more contemplative than Vive l'Amour, the only one of Tsai's films to have a local release. Dialogue is minimal (as is contact between the characters). There are no exteriors; most compositions are in middle shot and the camera is generally fixed. The takes are long and underscored by the near-constant sound of cascading water. Still, The Hole has an absurdist, gross-out undercurrent. The plague, which a French scientist names Taiwan fever, is carried by cockroaches and infects humans with roachlike behavior — scuttling around on all fours, hiding from the light. As this soggy armageddon suggests the peripheral scenes from a cheap horror flick, The Hole's deadpan object comedy— featuring an umbrella and a green plastic basin among other things— has intimations of Jacques Tati.

The VH-1 of pre-V-1 Germany: The Harmonists
Petrodomenigg
The VH-1 of pre-V-1 Germany: The Harmonists

Details

The Harmonists
Directed by Joseph Vilsmaier
Written by Klaus Richter
A Miramax release
Opens March 12

The Hole
Directed by Tsai Ming-liang
Written by Tsai and Yang Ping-ying
A Fox Lorber release
At the Cinema Village
March 12 through 18

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Tsai further enlivens the action with a half dozen musical numbers. Several showgirls (and ultimately the protagonists) lip-synch and dance to a series of brassy nightclub tunes. Signifying an impossible desire or parodying the extraterrestrial scenes in 2001, these routines are staged in the apartment building's sodden corridors and filmed with the same restraint as the rest of the movie. An end credit thanks the '50s HK actress­pop singer Grace Chang for her songs "to comfort us in the year 2000." Vilsmaier might have ended The Harmonists with a similar sentiment.

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