Taiwanese master of Ozu-esque dramas Hou Hsiao-hsien has not released a feature since 2015’s wuxia drama “The Assassin” made him an almost Oscar contender. In that film, Chinese superstar Shu Qi played a government-slaying assassin. In “Millennium Mambo,” Hou’s intimately constructed 2001 drama, she plays a dissatisfied nightclub hostess in a post-Y2K Taipei, tumbling through a series of relationships we now, more than two decades later, understand as “toxic.” “Millennium Mambo” has long been hard to find on home video, but Metrograph Pictures is re-releasing the film theatrically December 23, as well as online via the label’s Metrograph at Home selections. Check out the new trailer for “Millennium Mambo,” exclusively on IndieWire, below.
This clip, excerpted from early in the film, shows the kind of somnambulant atmosphere Hou conjures. Moments of wordless visual poetry — from this scene to how Hou shoots neon-glimmering club scenes or under-cranks in slow motion a shot of a woman leaning out a sunroof of a car barreling through a tunnel — are punctured by the bitter exchanges between Vicky (Shu Qi) and her boyfriends. There’s the DJ Hao-hao (Tuan Chun-hao) and the gangster Jack (Kao Jack), both of whom cause Vicky trouble. Hou shoots these scenes closely, almost excruciatingly so and out-of-focus, but isn’t shy to dole out some humor now and then — like when Vicky drags Hao-hao by the arm out of her bedroom and tells him to “get out right away!” after a drug bender.
“Millennium Mambo” has a sultriness not seen in most of Hou’s other films, from his Golden Lion winner “A City of Sadness” to “The Puppetmaster,” “Flowers of Shanghai,” and the beloved “Café Lumiere,” his most direct response to Ozu. With “Millennium,” Hou seems to be slipping on different clothes entirely, something closer to New Wave or documentary or Cassavetes in terms of rawness. Most of the film takes place at night, which, coupled with the electronic pop music coursing through the movie almost drone-like, gives the film a feeling of spiritual layover. Vicky drugs, drinks, and free-spirits her way through life, but it’s a lonely one.
See “Millennium Mambo” at Metrograph or via Metrograph at Home beginning December 23.