Monday, July 28, 2008

HELP ME EROS (2007)


help me eros poster
Over the years, Lee Kang-Sheng and Tsai Ming-Liang have managed to create a unique kind of cinema where everything seems to slowly and subtly become fetishized: holes, toilets, clocks, silence, noodles, watermelon, sickness, plants, water, fish, television, cinema screens, an urn, etc. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of using a (mostly) fixed camera to observe people in their everyday activities, a technique that leads us to wonder if we're truly ourselves only when we're alone.

My first encounter with Tsai was What Time Is It There?, and I still remember the scene where Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) gets up in the middle of the night and urinates into a plastic bag. I couldn't believe it; other people do that too? (In my case I use plastic water bottles instead of plastic bags; I'm not a heathen like Hsiao-kang.) Since then I've made it a point to see everything Lee and Tsai are involved in, and out of that pledge I've been rewarded with many masterpieces.

Help Me Eros, the second film directed by Lee Kang-Sheng (his first, The Missing, has yet to turn up on DVD), marks Lee as a director with considerable talent and creativity. He certainly owes a lot to his mentor Tsai (who also worked as production designer on Eros), but his acting and presence are such a huge force in Tsai's oeuvre that he has secured himself as an original artist in his own right. The bulk of Tsai's work establishes grey, green, and blue flooded cities of alienation and ennui (with its inhabitants looking for meaningful human contact) while Help Me Eros is a cotton-candy colored cityscape of alienation and erections (with its inhabitants looking for meaningful human contact).

Like The Wayward Cloud, Help Me Eros contains a few scenes that make the entire film worth seeing even if they happened to be the only good things in it (they're not). The best parts of it reminded me of the fantastic images and scenes from the very best surrealist erotica except, with the surrealists, things would often get so out of hand that everything would start floating right off the Earth. In Help Me Eros the images seem to cling ever so slightly to reality in a way that never forces us to question whether or not anything in it could (or would) really happen. This seems to make the world we live in just a little bit more fantastic.

Lee Kang-Sheng's sophomore film is a welcome reprieve from the boring and mundane way in which sexuality and loneliness are treated in the majority of mainstream cinema (if they're treated at all). No, the film is not perfect - some of the metaphors are a bit overstated, and overall the compositions aren't as magisterial as Tsai's - but it still makes me want to build concrete sculptures of Lee Kang-Sheng and place them on every street corner. Or fountains in the middle of city squares that, instead of dripping water, blow out quiet cigarette smoke.


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