Friday, February 19, 2010

Love Me Tender

Help Me Eros(2007)Directed By Kang Sheng-Lee
I was just expecting more of Tsai Ming Liang's super-freaky alienation porn, full of campy soul music interjections, but this was surprisingly emotional and ethereal. Unlike Antonini and even Tsai (who mentored Kang Lee Shang actor turned director here in "Help Me Eros") understands expressing alienation doesn’t mean every environment must be cold, dreary, and colorless. The world of "Help Me Eros" is neon lit from start to finish like a minimalist version of Coppola's "One From The Heart" with every frame worthy of being hung in a museum.Showing an ugly de-humanized world occupied by cold de-humanzied characters has been done to death as one of the tradtional strains of the "art film" especially in Europe, and had that been this films only motive and aesthic I wouldn't have bothered. Today's problem is how to try to see through the de-humanized beauty of our wonderous world, and to the frail people caught in it's dazzle like startled deer. The bright colors of Lee's world are seductive and engaging, but they cast a false rainbow, like the manufactured brightness of a red-light district. "Help Me Eros" is about a stockbroker who has lost all of his money for reasons that are never disclosed, sitting in his apartment "Leaving Los Vegas" style, watching and waiting for his world to fall apart one trip to the pawn shop at a time. He smokes joints constantly and tends his marijuana crops growing his closet, which are perhaps the only living things in his apartment. He calls a suicide hot line frequently, where he has feelings and fantasies for a specific operator and the two begin communicating via email. His screen name is "Divine Marijuana" and hers is "Pastry", both of them named after their respective poisons of choice. This woman and her life with her chef husband, who feeds her exotic animals like Ostrich and Eel, to distract her from their non-existent sex life, are featured as contrast to our hero's lone wolf/sad motherfucker desolation. Her story forms the main sub-plot as these two lonely souls seek connection, accept she is not what he imagines her to look like, and he is not the the salvation she needs him to be. Neither is a wiser, and watching I got the sense that despite their alienation, they might be better off with a surrogate digital interaction than the inevitable disappointment of actually meeting. She is overweight from her husband's excessive cooking, and middle aged, and they know nothing of each other but words and the sounds of one antother's voices, but this is the way he imagines her... In between this our hero falls in lust with several girls who sell some kind of nuts outside of his building wearing enticing outfits to attract repeat clients/johns. There are several sex scenes (5 if memory serves), but none as graphic or as numerous as "Wayward Cloud's" or "Nine Song's" or your average porn, and they arise from within a context of the story, not as just a rhythmic "device" or stylistic detour. Even if that context is only loneliness and lust. The music far from being inorganic to the script, is pulsating electronic rhythms usually absorbed from the sounds of the city at night. Or otherwise soothingly acoustic and vulnerable folk rock, each underscoring the specific emotions of longing, regret, exhilaration, and emptiness that the rest of the film echoes. Shots of standing in a moving car through the sun roof as the city flood by in a blur, of beautiful girls lounging around a neon lobby like cat's on a hot day, and a disturbing but tasteful bathtub full of eels, linger and don’t dislodge themselves from memory easily. Kang-sheng Lee's themes are not original, but his delivery is immaculate, his fantasies genuinely erotic (something Tsai's stilted humping though more naturalistic rarely achieves, or intends to be for that matter), and his art design courteousy of Tsai himself, is a joy for the eyes. Searching for affection and finding only sex, waiting for the sun and seeing only halogen and strobe, sitting in a cafe facing a river that roughly translated is called "Love River" (according to an observant IMDB writer from Indonesia) and trying not to appear lonely, have rarely seemed so convincing or heartfelt. Like "Movern Callar", the film is not the plot, but the sensual accumulations of sights and sounds, that drown the viewer like a warm bath. Dryly deadpan, minimal dialog, glowing with life, and cinematic daring, "Help Me Eros", would along with "Wayward Cloud" serve as perfect introductions to Taiwan's burgeoning avant garde aesthetics, which if you are not familiar with you need to see for yourself to believe or even comprehend. Maybe I smoke too much when I'm feeling blue, or maybe I'm just a moth to neon lights, but this resonated with me in ways, that are best not expressed in words, or at least not the type you write down. Maybe words which ought to be sung or read like poetry to fully experience.

No comments: