Hou Hsaio-Hsien is a filmmaker that I can appreciate. Although I am usually a little bored by his languid and slow paced films, I can understand why he is doing what he is doing and I can marvel in the artwork presented to me on the screen. Unfortunately here I had a little trouble trying to stay awake while he was trying to tell this story of two “brothers” trying to earn enough money to open a restaurant and the youngest one always fucking it up.
I love transportation shots and there are plenty here. The first sequence in the film is the two brothers and the youngest brother’s girlfriend on a train. The train moves through cities and fields, but the main focus is on the tracks underneath the train, constantly there and yet always disappearing as the train moves. There is also a long sequence in which the two brothers are riding scooters through the hills and I loved that sequence. It played with the characters’ emotions and still looked amazing. You can also see the city in the windshield of a car moving, just headlights always rushing towards you and a couple of other transportation shots all of which expertly done. These sequences give the feel of isolation in modern conveniences, something that Hsaio-Hsien explores in many of his films.
Where I had problems was trying to see why Hsaio-Hsien thought this story was important. I found the characters ignorant, the hustles they perform boring and run-of-the-mill and their final trouble stupid. The fact that the oldest brother, Gao, wants to open a restaurant and that he is a good chef, to be an afterthought. That is where the interesting part of the film should be. Not them trying to set up domino games and selling pigs, but him cooking, him talking more to his father, him running a small restaurant.
I also found Flathead and his girlfriend Pretzel to be the two most annoying characters that I have seen in awhile. It seems like Flathead has no real motivation other than playing silly games with his girlfriend while the “grownups” are trying to conduct business and wearing flashy shirts. Pretzel just screams, tries to kill her and refuses to close a door when she is peeing. Why does Gao still hang out with these idiots? It doesn’t seem like they are actual brothers (just brothers in the mafia sense) so there is no common blood connection. They just keep fucking up his chances to save money and follow his and his father’s dream. They are boring characters.
This film looked great. Unfortunately it fell flat in regards to character development, plot development and motivations. If you are looking for a better Hsaio-Hsien film that explores similar themes but interjects chemistry between the two main characters, see Three Times.