Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lee Kang-sheng, Yang Kuei-mei, Miao Tien, Tong Hsiang-Chu
Written by: Yang Pi-ying & Tsai Ming-liang
Directed by: Tsai Ming-liang
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Mandarin, with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/16/1998

The Hole (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Cavity Falls

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang's The Hole may have seemed like one of his lighter films when it was released back in 1998, at least compared to masterpieces like What Time Is It There? (2001) and Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003).

Now, in a restored re-release, available as part of the Roxie Theater's virtual cinema program, The Hole proves to be an eerily prophetic and timely movie, perhaps better now than it ever was.

It's set in the final week of 2000. A mysterious disease has wracked the globe, causing sufferers to behave like rats, skittering on all fours and seeking darkness.

In one infected neighborhood, residents are asked to evacuate, as the water will be shut off as of midnight on New Year's Eve.

Shopkeeper Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) stays behind. A plumber drills a hole in his floor, connecting his apartment with the unnamed female neighbor below, and beginning a rivalry.

The downstairs neighbor (Yang Kuei-mei) is dealing with incessant flooding, and has begun hoarding toilet paper!

The Hole moves to the sound of very little dialogue, and the thrum of a constant rainfall. From the balconies of the apartment building, falling bags of trash (it is no longer being collected), silently drop like the corpses of birds or forgotten angels.

And, out of nowhere, appear a few dreamlike, cabaret-style musical numbers!

It's deadpan to the point of zaniness. Leading man Lee is a frequent, if not constant figure in Tsai's movies, rarely revealing any kind of facial expression, even though his presence is both anchoring and sublime.

Tsai's films are connected by the silent and the dreamlike, and also by the non-stop flow of water, both live-giving and destructive. A second look at The Hole all these years later reveals it to be more than scant, and, indeed emerges as something quite... whole.

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