Love, the Ideal

Gillian Gaar


The title of Tsai Ming-liang's film implies a celebration of love. In a way, Vive l'Amour does do just that, but in no way by conventional means.

Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), a homeless crematorium urn salesman, steals keys to a newly vacated Taipei apartment. After a suicide attempt, he takes up residence there as Mei-Mei (Yang Kuei-mei), a real estate agent trying to sell the apartment, picks up Ah-jung (Chen Cho-jung), young street vendor, and brings him there for a roll in the sack. Ah-jung in turns steals Mei-Mei's keys and he and Hsiao-Kang unknowingly share the apartment. As Ah-jung persues Mei-Mei, Hsiao-Kang begins to realize he is falling for Ah-jung.

Vive l'Amour is more about the alienation of these characters in the urban landscape than about the plot. The characters are horrible at their jobs and unable to connect with other humans. It seems human and monetary transactions are impossible in this world.

The film is almost intrusive on the individuals, the camera positioned solidly as the characters think blankly while soaking in the bath tub, lie in bed wearing Fruit of the Looms, eating noodles or drinking beer. But this camera discovers humor too, capturing the characters in odd positions as they are alone (witness Mei-Mei trying to hang up "For Sale" signs around Taipei, see Lee Kang-sheng turn cartwheels in a spandex dress and a feather boa).

There is rarely any dialogue in Vive l'Amour, and the film completely focuses on how the characters simply cannot get out of themselves. Love is an ideal outside of these characters, a thing they cannot posses. As Mei-Mei sits on a bench and cries for an excrutiatingly long scene at the end of the film, it comes clear that theses characters can only celebrate love by knowing it is something they can never have.