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July 28, 2008

Help Me Eros

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Bang bang wo ai shen
Lee Kang-sheng - 2007
Strand Releasing Region 1 DVD

If one didn't know that Lee Kang-sheng had also written and directed Help Me Eros as well as starred in the film, one would think that the film was another look at contemporary Taiwan by Tsai Ming-liang. As it is, Tsai was one of the executive producers for this film. The similarities involve several people whose attempts at connecting with others are tentative at best. Unlike some of Tsai's films which seem to take place essentially in one location, such as the movie theater in Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Lee takes his camera through the streets of Kaohsiung. Two of the key locations are revealed to be closer to each other than in first suggested the way they are filmed.

Lee plays a stockbroker, Jie, who has lost everything, his job, money, his girlfriend, and is making ends meet by pawning his remaining possessions. He makes the acquaintance of Shin, a young woman who sells cigarettes and Betel nuts from the street stand where the girls dress as strippers, and slide down a pole to their customers on the street. Jie also attempts to connect with a woman, Shyi, who works at the suicide help line that he calls.

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The title is ironic in that it assumes that love is the answer to the problems of these characters, that is to say that they may think love will resolve their respective problems. One of the songs in the soundtrack has lyrics asking about the point of life if suffering is a major component. The film begins with an image of Lee watching a fish being gutted alive on a cooking show. While the fish may serve as a visual signifier of Jie's life, much of the film is about people looking at television, computers or bombarded with commercial images. Additionally, the characters attempt temporary escapes from their lives with food, marijuana,sex or simply fantasy. Jie's desperation is such that he chases after a truck televising the winning lottery numbers, a literal image of someone chasing after an illusion, in this case the dream of instant wealth.

While there are some shots with a moving camera, the tracking shot of Shin walking down the street that opens the film is the exception. Another shot is of two men playing pool, very close together. The camera glides around the pool table to show that what was suggested from one angle is made clear when the change of camera position shows the men are without pants. More often, Lee has a static camera with the characters moving within the frame. In one such shot, Jie is conversing on his cell phone. The camera is positioned so we see the kettle with boiling water that Jie picks up and puts down several times, often walking away from the camera down the hallway and back while continuing his conversation. The scene is one that is more wistful than comic, of a man whose lack of control over any aspect of his life extends to being unable to make a cup of instant noodles.

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Posted by peter at July 28, 2008 12:28 AM

Comments

Hi sir, interesting. How does it fare compared to The Missing? I've seen it and quite impressed.

Posted by: Richard at August 2, 2008 04:43 AM

I am not sure if I saw Lee's film although by the plot description it seems like I might have or something very similar.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at August 4, 2008 12:53 AM