What Time Is It There? (2001)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 11, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 116 min.  |   Countries - France , Taiwan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Jonathan Crow

What Time Is It Over There? is a masterful refinement of Tsai Ming-liang's auterist vocabulary as articulated in his masterworks, Vive l'Amour and The Hole. His characters still wade through sterile cityscapes, looking for some shred of human comfort, while his camera remains distanced and unmoving. Like his cinematic kindred spirits, Michelangelo Antonioni and Yasujiro Ozu, Tsai masterfully evokes the interior world of his characters with a single shot -- be it Hsiao King quietly rebelling against his job by casually bashing an "unbreakable" watch against a handrail, or his mother frantically taping out a window lest the light scare her dead husband's spirit. Tsai's unblinking camera also beautifully captures the often tentative, clumsy attempts at communication. In one scene, Shiang-chyi hesitantly tries to engage a Hong Kongese woman in conversation in a crowded Parisian coffeehouse. Tsai's depiction -- not to mention Chen Shiang-chyi's performance -- of two strangers awkwardly trying to balance one's own gnawing loneliness with the other's expectations is an understated cinematic gem. Though still exploring themes of alienation and ennui, Time is perhaps Tsai's most humorous work to date. Not unlike slapstick comedy, Hsiao-kang's bizarre obsession with turning back time becomes increasingly funny through repetition. The practice reaches the height of absurdity when he tries to turn back the time on a massive clock on the face of a bank, recalling Harold Lloyd's famous encounter with a similar timepiece. A meticulously crafted look at mundane moments in life, What Time Is It Over There? becomes a work of quiet transcendence by its end.