What Time Is It There?

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

More of the same from Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang, which is good news to anyone who's fallen under the sweet, melancholy spell of this unique director's previous films. Those coming to Tsai's work for the first time should prepare themselves for long takes with little or no dialogue, elliptical plotting instead of conventional narrative, a hilariously...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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More of the same from Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang, which is good news to anyone who's fallen under the sweet, melancholy spell of this unique director's previous films. Those coming to Tsai's work for the first time should prepare themselves for long takes with little or no dialogue, elliptical plotting instead of conventional narrative, a hilariously deadpan sense of humor and a true poet's appreciation of isolation and heartache. Once again, the young Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng stars as Hsiao Kang, the ever-evolving protagonist of Tsai's four previous features. Here, Hsiao Kang is a watchseller peddling his wares on the streets of Taipei. One afternoon, he's approached by a pretty young woman (Chen Shiang-chyi) who needs a dual-time watch — she's leaving for France the next day and wants to be able to tell time in both Paris and Taipei — and eventually convinces Hsiao Kang to sell her the watch on his own wrist. Out of gratitude, she leaves him a piece of cake. It's not much of an encounter, but it's enough for the grieving, emotionally isolated Hsiao Kang to latch onto. His father (Miao Tien) has just died, and his heartbroken mother (Lu Yi-ching) has become obsessed with his reincarnation: She dutifully maintains his shrine, sets a place for him at the dinner table and forbids Hsiao Kang to kill any living creature, not even a cockroach, for the next 49 days. (In a nod to Shohei Imamura's classic 1966 comedy THE PORNOGRAPHERS, she believes her husband has returned as a fish.) Hsiao Kang, meanwhile, is also mourning an absence, and attempts to reestablish a connection with the young woman who now wears his watch by setting whatever timepiece he can get his hands on to Paris time, from all the watches he sells to the clocks in the Taipei train station. To say that Tsai is revisiting familiar material shouldn't be taken as a criticism: Repetition is what his work is all about. He utilizes the same cast (Tsai uses Lee much in the same way Truffaut once used Jean-Pierre Leaud, who puts in an amusing appearance in this film), the same locales (Lee's own apartment served as the family home here and in THE RIVER) and memorable shots that echo from film to film. With each new film, Tsai is carefully building a rich, remarkably coherent body of work that eloquently describes urban spaces and all the loneliness they contain.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: More of the same from Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang, which is good news to anyone who's fallen under the sweet, melancholy spell of this unique director's previous films. Those coming to Tsai's work for the first time should prepare themselves for long… (more)

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