In the crowded metropolitan city of Taipei, the empty lives of three strangers cross paths in a vacant apartment. The film opens to a shot of a key accidentally left on the front door. Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), a fragile, young salesman, seizes the key, inspects the apartment, and decides to move in, proceeding to bathe, dress, then retire to a bedroom to cut his wrist superficially with a pocket knife. On another part of town, a resourceful, determined real estate agent, May Lin (Yang Kuei Mei), goes through her sales ritual: posting signs, conducting an open house, calling potential buyers. During a refreshment break at a cafeteria, May Lin catches the eye of a shallow, self-involved street merchant, Ah-Jung (Chen Chao-jung), and the attraction is mutual. There is no communication in their mating ritual; only a series of knowing glances and coyish pursuit. The sexual game terminates at the same “vacant” apartment, where the two engage in casual, meaningless physical intimacy. On the following morning, Ah-Jung steals the apartment key from May Lin and also moves in, unaware of Hsiao-Kang’s presence in the other room. As Hsiao-Kang spends his day disseminating columbarium advertisements around town, Ah-Jung also passes idle time: making prank telephone calls to May Lin; driving aimlessly around town; selling clothing on a busy sidewalk. But when May Lin decides to spend an afternoon at the apartment to rest, the uninvited guests find themselves forming an unlikely alliance to avoid discovery.
Tsai Ming-liang creates a spare, subtle, and incisive portrait of loneliness and isolation in Vive l’amour. By juxtaposing the ambient sounds of the city with minimal dialogue among the characters, Tsai presents a disaffected and alienated view of urban life: the silent seduction between May Lin and Ah-Jung; May Lin’s inability to recognize Ah-Jung on the street nor his voice on the telephone; Ah-Jung and Hsiao-Kang’s non-interaction in the apartment, until May Lin’s unexpected presence compels them to cooperate in their evasion. Ironically, even May Lin’s conversations are also literally remote (as she calls the main office from several real estate properties using a cell phone) and disconnected (as Ah-Jung’s calls are truncated when his time allowance expires at a telephone booth). The title of the film, Vive l’amour, proves to be an elusive declaration in the lives of three people leading an anonymous life of quiet despair in an increasingly impersonal modern world.
© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.