Eros (HK - DVD)
Critically acclaimed directors Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni join forces to deliver an outstanding se...
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Eros is a project that has undergone various modifications but the principal ideas of veteran Italian auteur, Michelangelo Antonioni, are very much engraved in the final product. Antonioni’s original vision of a feature length title had to be re-evaluated due to concerns over his age – the artist had recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday. With the future clouded with uncertainty, additional help was provided from Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh – two critically acclaimed directors who have single-handedly redefined the independent cinema culture. At long last, admirers of erotica can indulge in a series of short films showcasing globally diverse perspectives on desire, relationships and passion.
The Hand, helmed by Wong Kar Wai, illustrates the tragic tale of apprentice tailor Zhang (Chang Chen) and his attraction with glamorous prostitute Miss Hua (Gong Li). He is responsible for Hua’s exquisite dresses, which are crafted with exceptional detail and affection. Conversely, Zhang’s fantasy woman merely sees her clothes as tools to obtain further clients. Over the years, Miss Hua plummets into bankruptcy and sickness, whilst Zhang expands his career and patiently aids the mistress wherever possible. Just as Hua approaches the dregs of society, she finds one way to repay her tailor for his years of invaluable service.
As expected from maestro Wong Kar Wai, his selection is another eventful accomplishment – an exhibition of suppressive tension with divine uses of colour, music and atmosphere. His ability to extract immense sincerity from the predicament, as well as the characters, is certainly made lucid. As such, a wealth of emotions is evoked and previously redundant senses are on alert whilst watching The Hand. The fundamental source of eroticism originates by highlighting the importance of touch and its methodology in harnessing affection. In fact, this is far more effective than if the characters were to result in a one night stand. Sometimes the anticipation is far more revealing than the act of sex.
Masterful cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, collaborates with Wong Kar Wai to help capture the seductive lighting and suave camerawork. His striking use of calm monochromes and moonlit shades make Christopher Doyle one of today’s finest colourists. It is no surprise that The Hand looks undeniably delicious; long, silent shots of walls and corridors help underline details that the common viewer would negligently ignore. Moreover, this reflects on the director’s favourite tradition – using the power of suggestion to emphasise moods and density as opposed to following an orthodox structure.
The two leads, Chang Chen and Gong Li, have a well established history in Chinese cinema, where the latter possesses phenomenal acting talent and is now globally recognised. The chemistry between them is radiant, stressing the torment of the two characters with incredible firmness. Chang is a relatively young actor but effortlessly adapts into such a mature role. Pay attention to his performance as he stitches the next dress, the sheer warmth and level of concentration on his face is enough to indicate his yearning for the mistress.
If one were to insist on a fault then it would be that The Hand is hardly groundbreaking material; most will perhaps recognise it as a condensed adaptation of Wong’s previous works. A hint of In the Mood for Love lingers throughout the film, from the appearance of the central characters to the romantic setting of 1960’s Hong Kong. In fact, the film was originally intending to set the story during 1930’s Shanghai but the SARS epidemic forced major production alterations. As it is a concise premise, the title also suffers from chronological issues, as the events supposedly occur over several years. Nevertheless, this is still a delightful piece of work from the Chinese director. Just as we all love the taste of chocolate, regardless of how many times we have had it before, likewise the world will always welcome a Wong Kar Wai title, simply because we recognise what he is capable of.
Steven Soderbergh’s Equilibrium is set in 1950’s New York, where a troubled alarm clock maker (Robert Downey Jr.) reveals his recurring erotic dream to a psychiatrist. However, the doctor appears to have voyeuristic intentions of his own and is constantly distracted by distant figure from another building. As the two characters determine the source of the patient’s problem, it would appear that the solution is far more abstract than either of them had intended.
The Hollywood approach is a lot more accessible for those who prefer something a little more mainstream. On the other hand, it still retains a layer of complexity that requires some thought. Soderbergh presents a light-hearted comic situation between psychiatrist and patient, which unexpectedly evolves into a refreshingly intellectual riddle. Symbolisms and connotations are plentiful but ultimately rewarding, validating the American director’s love for experimental filmmaking.
Interestingly however, the story is not in the least bit erotic and barely sustains any connection with relationships or sexual references. The contrast between The Hand and Equilibrium is startling – one filmmaker manages to surpass the stereotypical ideas associated with erotica, whilst the other thinks that a brief appearance of a naked woman automatically makes a film arousing, which emphasises the somewhat shallow approach that Hollywood has towards sex in general. If the industry were not so conservative, people would perhaps appreciate that certain titles are exclusively made for mature audiences, providing an intimate profile of situations that many partners have to face.
Despite any confusions over the genre, Equilibrium is still entertaining to watch – Soderbergh’s delicate, cerebral message that boldly delves into the realm of human dreamscape with amusing consequences. The excellent Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin help provide a buoyant mood thanks to some witty conversations and punch-lines.
Lastly, Michelangelo Antonioni concludes the series of shorts with The Dangerous Thread of Things. A married couple bicker over their troubled sex life, desperately craving the meaning of a redundant relationship. As they explore visually ravishing locations, they begin to examine the petty details that pushed them apart. In order to remedy his sexual frustration, the man befriends a dynamic young woman in her bedroom, only to face the consequences of his actions.
The final chapter is by far the most contemporary; implicit themes and messages dominate a non-existent plot, allowing the audience to interpret the premise as they wish. Antonioni manages to secure desolate landscapes and agriculture, indicating that the couple are too busy fighting to appreciate the grand splendour of the Italian countryside. Certain shots are so mesmerising that the characters remain silent; much of the film comprises of simple background photography. It is interesting to note that the central characters are depicted as wealthy people leading a lavish lifestyle. Upon closer examination however, it is apparent that wealth cannot guarantee happiness. In fact, it is so easy to be blinded by greed than to follow the source of true pleasure.
Admittedly, this is my first experience with one of Antonioni’s titles. European cinema in general is somewhat of an uncharted territory, due to their hypothetical approach to filmmaking that may leave a bitter taste for some. The performances in The Dangerous Thread of Things felt horrendously mundane, with more sophisticated lines being said in a Vin Diesel movie. Whilst the title expressed immense beauty alongside oppressive views of a long lost passion, the cringe-worthy dialogue and the lack of definition left this particular reviewer cold.
Eros is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is an interlaced NTSC transfer, immediately exhibiting a high amount of combing throughout all three films. Considering the diversity of the titles, each one maintains its own individual pallet. Whilst the Wong Kar Wai opts for filters to emphasise lush tones, Antonioni prefers a much more natural scheme with realistic shades and skin tones. Either way, the colours remain solid with no evidence of smearing or digital manipulation. Likewise, the details remain consistently sharp with the exception of Equilibrium, which appears to have been subjected to deliberate grain to coincide with the 50’s look. Soderbergh’s contribution is also filmed in black and white but thankfully exhibits nourishing deep blacks.
Overall, Mei Ah have done a splendid job with the transfer, keeping the contrast and saturation levels well balanced and cleaning up any unnecessary dirt and speckles. The only concern is the interlacing issue; the combing destroys much of Antonioni’s intended vision, particular with the scenery.
Viewers can choose to hear the audio in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 format, where the original soundtrack is Mandarin for The Hand and English for the remaining two titles. There is little to differentiate between the two mixes, both are near enough identical if the volume is turned up for the DTS option. The rears remain silent apart from the musical interlude in between titles and a few other instrumental sections. Both tracks are very disappointing in terms of execution, there is no ambient noise whatsoever but The Dangerous Thread of Things certainly presented ample opportunities. The entire audio is originated from the frontal array with very little in the way of directional effects.
The optional English subtitles are of excellent quality. The only issue is that they remain onscreen throughout all three films unless they are turned off manually. The Dangerous Thread of Things has a little Italian dialogue; therefore the subtitles need to be selected again for these particular chapters.
The bulk of the supplementary materials comprise of three interviews with Wong Kar Wai, Gong Li and Chang Chen that last approximately ten minutes each, although the actual length may be shorter if it were not for the inserted clips from the film. The discussions are extremely in depth; Gong Li in particular reveals a thorough description on how she prepared for a complex role in a short period of time. Both performers provide mature answers on the chemistry between the two characters, despite the age difference between them. Wong Kar Wai’s fascinating interview highlights the origin of the project, as well as the various changes he endured during production. In addition, he also addresses his interpretation of Eros and what erotica means to him.
Two trailers, a photo gallery and text information (synopsis and cast and crew details) finish off supplementary materials. The extras only really cover one third of Eros, it would have been nice to have had contribution from the other two directors.
Eros is a remarkable journey from three diverse filmmakers, each one offering their own perspective on the meaning of erotica. The titles surpass perverse stereotypes and innuendos to create intelligent, stimulating tales of sincere passion and intimacy. Whilst some stories are dependant on personal taste, Wong Kar Wai’s effort stands triumphant as a bite-sized romantic tragedy marinated with handsome photography and music. Quite simply, this is a collection not to be missed.
You can purchase this title for $12.49 and $29.99 from Yes Asia.
Review by Bodhi Sarkar
For persons aged 18 or above only
Release Date: 15th July 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English/Mandarin, DTS 5.1 English/Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified)
Extras: Three Interviews, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Text Information
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Gong Li, Robert Downey Jr., Christopher Buchholz
Length: 108 minutes
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