In a recent issue of Film Comment, Tony Rayns penned a rather scathing attack on Korean director Kim Ki-duk (The Isle, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring) that came off as being far more personal than professional. In it, he accuses Kim of (amongst other things) plagiarizing Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour for his latest feature, 3-Iron. Giving Rayns the benefit of the doubt (does he deserve it?), Filmbrain thought he would watch Tsai's film again before checking out 3-Iron.
Vive L'Amour explores ideas of loneliness, alienation, and the inability for people to connect -- a theme Tsai would return to in The Hole, and the excellent What Time Is It There?. The story concerns three lonely people who, though living under the same roof (well, sort of) have little in the way of contact. May Lin is a real-estate saleswoman who spends her days in empty apartments waiting for prospective clients to turn up. Hsiao-kang (Tsai staple Lee Kang-sheng) is a cremation urn salesman who steals a key to one of the vacant apartments and clandestinely moves in. The third in the triangle is Ah-jung, a street vendor who May Lin brings to the same apartment for desperate sexual encounters. As in most of Tsai's films, the story unfolds with the barest minimum of dialog (it's nearly thirty minutes before the first line is uttered), yet the actions of the three tell us all we need to know. Though lonely and in desperate need for human contact (in one scene, Hsiao-kang passionately kisses a melon), Tsai's characters are never portrayed as pathetic or helpless, nor is he interested in making sweeping statements about how hard life is in the modern-day metropolis. He's mastered the art of portraying alienation, and manages (not just in this film, but nearly all of them) to draw us into the lives of his characters without any heavy-handed melodrama. Still, there are heartbreaking moments in the film, such as the final, lengthy shot of May Lin that is pure perfection, and easily one of his most powerful endings.
The thought of Kim Ki-duk lifting anything other than the basic premise from Vive L'Amour is hard to imagine, for he is sort of the anti-Tsai. Kim's characters don't contemplate or internalize, they act out -- they scream, they fight, they degrade themselves, etc. Filmbrain should be seeing 3-Iron in the next few days, and will report back when he does.