Another in the lengthening line of Taiwanese urban alienation movies, “Vive L’Amour” is a severe letdown after young director Tsai Ming-liang’s promising, multi-layered debut on the same theme, “Rebels of the Neon God.” Posey, anti-dramatic pic about three lost souls in contempo Taipei looks like it will lose most of its audience as well, though mild homoerotic undercurrents could find this a few friends in gay situations. Venice fest awarded pic the Gold Lion , which it shared with Macedonia’s “Before the Rain.”
First two reels (virtually sans dialogue) intro the three protagonists in downbeat style. Boyish, blank-faced salesman Hsiao-kang steals the key to a vacant apartment and halfheartedly slashes his wrist. Elsewhere in the city, smooth-looking Ah-jung picks up an older woman, May, and the two have sex in the same apartment.
Hsiao-kang, it turns out, sells indoor niches for crematorium urns. May is a real-estate agent, perpetually on the phone to clients and running from property to property. Ah-jung is a sidewalk vendor of clothing.
Though far from the bread line, all are “homeless” in their own ways, living off the rump of an affluent society but not a part of it. The two men meet and pal up, and when Ah-jung and May meet at the apartment for more sex, Hsiao-kang is an accidental witness under the bed. Long final sequence follows May as she breaks down in tears on the way to work.
Tsai’s cool, immaculately framed style is occasionally effective (as black comedy) but mostly maddeningly mannered and empty, evoking little sympathy or engagement with the characters. Dialogue is flatly delivered, and Hsiao-kang’s sexual confusion (explicit only near the end, when he minces around the apartment in femme clothes) seems more tacked on than integrated into the pic’s emotional fabric.
Performances by the two males, both from “Rebels,” are OK within pic’s limits. As the sidelined woman, the experienced Yang Kuei-mei does her best with a thankless part. Technically, pic is fine, with clean lensing by its two cinematographers, but basically this is a so-what movie in spades.