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shorts by James Lee, the thrilling conclusion

Posted by martinteller on September 16, 2014

In the interest of wrapping up this look at shorts by a director no one besides me cares that much about, I skipped more of the newer shorts and watched the remaining three from his early career:

Goodbye concerns a woman (Tioh Bee Yoong) who seems to have a busy sales job and has just broken up with her boyfriend.  One of her co-workers keeps trying to ask her out, but she deflects his advances.  She meets up with a high school friend and they talk about their love lives, past and present.  In the end, the woman is seen thoughtfully listening to a CD returned by the ex-boyfriend.  In contrast to the newer shorts, this one doesn’t demonstrate a need to spell everything out.  In fact, I had to read Lee’s description of the film to learn that at one point the woman and one of her associates are discussing the suicide of a Hong Kong singer/actor named Leslie Cheung.  I am familiar with Cheung primarily through his work with Wong Kar-Wai, but didn’t know he was a singer, didn’t know he killed himself, and didn’t pick up on the fact they were talking about him.  Perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but knowing it after the fact lends the short an extra dimension.  Still, I wish I had felt more meaning while watching it… it was enigmatic but perhaps too much so.  Also, there are amateur sound editing mistakes… you can clearly hear a change in the background hum when (I assume) lines were overdubbed.  Rating: Good (73)

WALL is listed as an “experimental short” and at first threatens to be the kind of thing that gives experimental cinema a bad name.  Over the droning, epic-sounding music of Mogwai and Sigur Ros, a woman (Amy Len) is seen wearing a black shirt and boxers, slowly dragging her body along a stark white wall.  She exits the screen and moves in the other direction, this time more in a more torturous manner.  The profile silhouette of a man enters the foreground, having a one-sided conversation, trying to fix their communication breakdown.  After the woman contorts herself painfully, she starts walking away from the wall, towards the camera.  Lee based the film on Len’s choreographed piece, and usually I don’t go for this sort of interpretive dance, but after a while the elements started coming together really nicely.  Although it flirts with ridiculousness, it’s a fairly effective work illustrating the difficulties in talking to each other when we’re talking on completely different planes.  Rating: Good (77)

Goodbye to Love also seems at first like self-parody.  It tells the story of heartbreak through three-minute chunks of static camera shots of nearly static images (except for a ladder dance, also choreographed by Len), accompanied by song.  A man holding a bouquet of flowers in the foreground makes a call to a telephone in the background.  Then he stands next to a woman.  Then he stands alone.  Then there’s the ladder dance thing, and I think I’ll just not spoil the rest.  I detected some David Lynch influence (perhaps mostly because the black and white photography kind of looks like Eraserhead) and Ming-liang Tsai (particularly in the use of a Chinese song).  The last song is Pachebel’s Canon, which despite its overuse and cheesiness always manages to grab me.  It’s all an intriguing mix of funny and sad.  Tried my patience at times, but I mostly got a kick out of it.  Rating: Good (78)


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