directed by: Hsiao-hsien Hou


IMDB link:

Submitted by Ian Jones on 2009-07-22

Ian Jones's comment:
Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Millennium Mambo," by location. Key is as follows:

TaiMisc - Taipei, miscellaneous (mostly exterior, see shot notes)

Club - Set in club

HH Ap - Hao-Hao's apartment

Yubari - Yubari, Hokkaido (Japan)

Kao Ap - Jack Kao's Apartment

Tokyo - Shinjuku, Tokyo

Other - see shot notes.

Number of shots:
MSL 45.7 77.7 134.2 26.2 123.9 61.4 11.7
StDev 47.7 80.4 103.7 25 76.3 29.3 15.1
Min 45 10.1 23.9 8.5 7 22.1 10
Max 146.6 289.9 390.7 87.1 230.9 121.2 42.8
CV 0.6 0.77 0.63 0.73 0.6 0.44 0.7

Step: Vertical resolution: Height:
Degree of the trendline: Moving average : Color code?

Users' comments:

Author: Ian Jones Date: 2009-09-13

Through a comparison of this graph of the film with my previous camera dynamics graphing, the following trends can be brought to light:


Taipei Miscellaneous shots (ASL 79.1, SD 47.7):


All shots in miscellaneous Taipei locations are exterior vehicle-mounted shots following Vicky on a street.  For more info, see shot notes of either this graph, or the shot notes for the "vehicle-mounted" category on my Millennium-Mambo-by-camera-dynamics graph.


Club shots (ASL 104.8, SD 80.4):


Pans are heavily favored in club settings; twelve of the thirteen total shots taking place in a club contain some sort of panning motion.  Given the nature of filming crowds in a location such as this, this trend is not surprising.  Tilts are also fairly common in this environment; 8 shots contain some sort of tilting motion in concert with panning motion.  For the most part, these tilts take the form of the camera following from a subject's hands to their face and back as part of a traveling-close or traveling-medium-close approach.  The early "magician" scene, shots 3 and 4, represents a good example of this.


Shot 5 contains about 28 seconds of sideways tracking, from left to right then right to left, nearly invisibly blended in with fluid pans and tilts.  These 28 seconds are enough to mark clubs as the location in which the greatest amount of tracking in the film occurs, although this tracking constitutes only 2% of the total screen time of scenes set in clubs.  For more on Hou's use of tracking in Millennium Mambo, see the notes for Hao-Hao's apartment, below.


Hao-Hao's Apartment shots (ASL 163.5, SD 103.7):


The scenes set in Hao-Hao's apartment have the longest ALS and greatest standard deviation of any of the locations in the film, a fact that actually could be spotted even without the help of Cinemetrics.  The duration of shot 9, the first shot in the apartment, is strikingly long (the longest in the film by far, at 390.7 secs, the runner-up, shot 45, clocks in at 290.2 seconds, a full one hundred seconds shorter), and this fact is noticeable under normal viewing situations.


Tracking is quite rare in this film.  Hou utilizes it a small amount but does not sustain it as a stylistic hallmark throughout the film as a whole; in fact, all of the tracking in the film occurs within the first ten minutes.  Shot 9, the long introductory shot, contains around 23 seconds of a sideways track from left to right.  This is the last occurrence of tracking in the film.  Those 23 seconds constitute only 1% of the total screen time of Hao-Hao's apartment.  Adding together all of the tracking in shot 5 and shot 9, one finds that there are only 52 seconds of tracking in this film, the screen time of which constitutes a mere .8% of the film's total running time.


Most of the remainder of the shots in the apartment exhibit a mixture of tilts and pans; some have long stretches of only minor reframing.  Shots containing only tilts, and no prominent pans, are fairly common in this location (shots 11, 31, 32); this can partly be attributed to scenes set in the stairwell outside the apartment, which constitutes an obvious example of vertically-organized space.


Reflections and "dirty" framing of subjects through visual obstacles--a prominent example is the beads hanging from Vicky's doorway--are a common visual trope within the apartment (shots 11, 12, 14, 15).   It is also in this location that Hou first starts introducing jump cuts into the film's visual vocabulary; see cuts joining shots 13-14, 15-16, and 33-34 (I have marked these on my camera dynamics graph).


Yubari shots (ASL 34.4, SD 25):


Whenever Vicky travels to Japan in this film, the ASL drops precipitously.


The Yubari scenes of this film have an ASL of 34.4 seconds.  This stands in stark contrast to the film's overall ASL of 95.9 sec, and also to the overall ASL of Hou's films over the past decade, which is roughly 68 seconds by my calculation.  (The fastest-cut film of this period, Three Times, has an ASL of 35.7, if one disregards the intertitles in the middle section.)


In addition to having a lower ASL compared to the Taipei scenes, the two sequences set in Yubari in the film are striking in their stylistic consistency.  There second sequence feels like "reprise" of the first.


Both Yubari sequences open with vehicle-mounted shots (shot 23 and shot 55) on a snowy road to the small mining community, accompanied by Lim Giong's song "A Pure Person" on the soundtrack (the track continues throughout the entirety of the first sequence, and most of the second sequence).  Following the opening shot, each sequence contains six additional shots--the first Yubari sequence composed of three shots with static framing and three shots with pans mixed with tilts; the second is composed of two shots with static framing and four with pans mixed with tilts.  The total running time of each sequence is also quite close: the first clocks in at 238.3 sec, the second at 243.5 sec.


Kao's Apartment shots (ASL 127.8, SD 72.1*):


In terms of camera dynamics, the shots in Kao's apartment are among the most idiosyncratic and unpredictable in the film.  The subset of shots in Kao's apartment contains the only shot of the film to use an elevator motion (shot 46), as well as the only shot of the film that exhibits only minor reframing (nine shots in the film are shot with a completely static camera, but shot 47 is the only that contains merely minor adjustments throughout its entirety).  Aside from that, most shots contain both tilts and pans.  Shot 41 is filmed with a static camera.  It seems unlikely that there is any sort of underlying logic of these dynamics having to do strictly with the setting, divorced from the specific narrative and blocking contexts of the shots.


Tokyo shots (ASL 66.7, SD 21.5):


Again, Vicky travels to Japan, this time the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, and again the ASL drops, although not as strongly as in the Yubari sections.  Aside from the ASL/location correlation, the scenes shot in Tokyo contain what seems like a loose grab-bag of visual techniques.  There are a few static-framed shots, a prominent tilt along the exterior of a building, and another prominent jump cut (cut from 53-54).  As in Kao's apartment, it seems unlikely that there can be found a logic in this catalogue of trends outside of the dictates of each individual shot.



* SD given for this category at top of graph is incorrect, see shot notes for shots 40 and 41.

Author: Ian Jones Date: 2009-09-13

NOTE:  For best viewing results on the graph, set step to "1," vertical resolution at "2 pixles/sec," height at "1000," trend line at "6," and color code to "yes."

Author: Edo Choi Date: 2009-09-16

Thanks so much for these notes, Ian! They're very helpful. A couple things:

1. Doesn't the first jump cut of the film occur in the opening club scene just after the title card? There's at least a very abrupt cut between the first shot with the magician

2. Note that there are actually two apartments in which Hao Hao and Vicky are seen living together, but Hou fudges the timeline so that we aren't sure which arrangement predates the other. We are shown the apartment with the adjoining rooms linked by a small living area first, and the apartment searched by the police second. After the first sequence where we see images from Vicky's 'excursion' to Yubari, we are returned to the apartment with the adjoining rooms. I don't think we ever see the latter apartment again. While it's still not completely clear to me which apartment they lived in first, I'm pretty sure it's the former, the one with the adjoining rooms, because Vicky is seen wearing a red sweater in that setting twice, and is wearing that same sweater when she seeks sanctuary at Kao's apartment. She is also seen coming home from the Hostess Bar to that apartment in a short sequence that directly follows the first Yubari scenes. As the watch episode is connected with the apartment which the police search, and as Vicky's narration tells that episode just after she relates how she ended up with Hao Hao, I think it's likely that it's place in the timeline precedes that of the hostess bar and other events, which are associated with the apartment with the adjoining room. In any case, even after all the pieces are mapped out, I believe the initial sense of confusion is intentional on every level. We're supposed to be confused where we are, when we are, and exactly-under-what-circumstances we are. One of the most acute effects of this confusion is that the pressure of time passing in the films' claustrophobic spaces is experienced as interminable, centerless, without any direction or trajectory. As the narration suggests, Hao Hao "always tracked Vicky down" - The search for a point of escape or egress, perhaps the central theme of the film, is worked over again and again in these protracted, and very uncomfortable, sequences in these two apartments.

Author: Edo Choi Date: 2009-09-16

That first note should read: "There's at least a very abrupt cut between the shot where the magician demonstrates his skills and the shot where Kao is popping the cork of a champagne bottle. I would've classified this as a jump cut, but perhaps it isn't strictly so. It at least marks a very obtrusive and jarring ellipsis in time."

Author: Edo Choi Date: 2009-09-16

Also, a mistake in the second note: "while it's still not completely clear to me which apartment they lived in first" should read "while it's still not completely clear to me which apartment they lived in second"

Author: Ian Jones Date: 2009-09-16


Jump Cuts:

There is definitely a trend towards what could easily be called "odd" cuts in the film - cuts with bad action matches, that might just barely slip into the "30 degree or 20% change" rule of classical cutting.  I tried to be conservative in what I was labeling "jump cuts" in this film, because there are a couple that are quite extreme (blatant continuity mismatches coupled with less than 5% change in angle or zoom, for instance between shots 15-16), I didn't want to diminish their outlying by affixing the label "jump cut" to to many cuts.

Two Apartments:

I stressed and stressed about this.  For awhile it seemed to me as if there were two apartments, then it seemed as if there was, in fact, only one, but that it looked different because in certain sequences Hou insisted on filming it along one strictly-delineated axis, and in other sequences he broke that rule.  But now I again think that you're right.  There's no way that they can possibly be the same apartment, Hou's just playing with the timeline and with the viewer.  Shots 9 and 30-36 are in the "adjoining rooms" apartment.  Shots 12-16, all of which deal with the "stolen watch" subplot/flashback, are in a different apartment.  I don't think there's any way anyone could ever tell which apartment shot 11 actually takes place in.  I do in fact believe that the apartment the police visit is supposed to be their first apartment, since the whole scene is effectively a flashback, and the "adjoining-rooms" apartment is their second, for a variety of reasons, including the ones you mentioned.

Your reading of why Hou deliberately uses this confusing strategy is, I believe, right on.

Author: Edo Choi Date: 2009-09-17

About shot 11, could part of that shot be taking place inside the bathroom of the club from the previous scene? I'm inclined to hypothesize that this shot might actually be two shots linked by a hidden transition. The business of the soundtrack during this shot both clarifies and obfuscates the matter. First, we hear the Moby track that plays over the club sequence, and it's significant that the sound is muffled as if issuing from the room beyond rather than muted or dialed down as if intentionally manipulated by the filmmakers' in post. But as the camera begins to tilt up the Moby track is subtly faded out. Then we hear the sound of a door opening, covers ruffling, bodies shuffling and Hao Hao and Vicky exhaling deeply. All the while, there's the sound of running water, at first a cascade as if someone were taking a shower, and then more intermittent as if the water has just been shut off. So two possibilities strike me:

1. The scene does take place in two locations: the club bathroom and Hao Hao and Vicky's bedroom.

2. The scene takes place in one location, but two rooms: Hao Hao and Vicky's bathroom and then their bedroom.

I guess the third possibility is that it's all the same room, but I doubt that. I think it's definitely two shots bridged by a hidden cut. The question becomes how big a distance is being stitched.

Author: Ian Jones Date: 2009-09-17

I had always assumed "2," that the camera began in the bathroom, focusing on their reflections on some strange surfaces, and then tilted out into the adjoining bedroom, with some sort of reflective surface still between the couple and the camera.  Now I'm not so sure.  There's definitely not anything as simple as a "hidden cut" in the shot, but it's possible that there's a slow dissolve masked by some double-exposure imagery (posing as "reflections).  In any case, neither of the apartments seems to have a bathroom that immediately opens into a bedroom.

Well, now I've looked at that shot more than I ever thought I'd have to, and still not come to any sound conclusion.  I think, in the end, that untangling it exactly is unimportant.  But what is important is that Hou's made things more complicated and oddly irresolvable than they appear on the surface.  Thanks for calling this out.

Author: Edo Choi Date: 2009-09-19

Just to round out the discussion on this, this shot does have kin in other Hou films  - the two most glaring examples being the POV shot through a distorted glass in GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE and the single POV shot in FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI, but also many similar shots in FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON - I think this one actually has too many to count! So any consideration of its value would do well to take these other moments into consideration.


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