Help Me Eros

Director: Lee Kang-sheng
Year: 2008
Rating: 6.5
Country: Taiwan

In his introduction to the film, director Lee Kang-shen spoke of Beetle Nut Girls – a phenomenon that had until now escaped me. Apparently, in Taiwan there are these small stands dotted along the highways of the country in order to serve caffeinated delights to truckers on long hauls. These are all manned so to speak by women who due to fierce competition have over time become lovelier and began wearing less and less clothes. At least in the film, they often wear provocative outfits that play to men’s sexual fantasies such as that of a nurse or schoolgirl. Their entrance only enhances this image – a slide down a stripper’s pole and a cleavage display as they stick their head into the vehicle. So who wants to go on a road trip next summer with me?

Lee Kang-sheng is best known to art movie goers as the main actor in many of Tsai Ming-liang’s films and Tsai’s cinematic influence seems very apparent in this work. If one were to watch lots of the art films coming out of Taiwan, one would have to wonder if the entire country was in a state of deep funk. The films often ache with ennui, listlessness and unstated sorrow. This film certainly falls into this genre though there is a sly tongue in cheek humor constantly at play that makes it quite palatable and makes one wonder if Lee is almost poking fun at this type of film. The screen is awash in startling imagery that often delights, but it never quite adds up to much other than a visual feast. If Lee is trying to make some point here about the human condition, I confess to missing it. His mentor Tsai uses many of the same tools in his films, but they always leave you pondering life when you leave the theater. Honestly, I left mainly thinking about Beetle Nut Girls.

The film begins with some graphic imagery of a fish being sliced into pieces from tail to head but leaving the fish alive as its mouth and eyes move in spasmodic helpless motions. As the film progresses you realize that this is a symbol for the main character, Ah Jie (Lee Kang-sheng) whose soul is dead but he keeps going through the motions of being alive. Once quite wealthy, Ah Jie has lost all his money in the stock market, but still lives in his spacious repossessed apartment. Here he grows marijuana that he takes liberally on a daily basis. The apartment is above a few Beetlenut stands and he gets to know a few of the women – having an affair with one and a threesome with two others. Not even this though is able to shake him out of his complete surrender to life. A side story follows a large woman who works at a suicide phone center that Ah Jie often calls. Her life isn’t much better as she is married to a chef whose cooking has made her heavy and who doesn’t bother to hide his affair with a young male stud. She buys a tubful of eels that she finally crawls into and pleasures herself with. Everything here is shot with an artistic eye that satisfies on one level but seems near masturbation on another – the sex is strenuous, gorgeous and acrobatic shot in cool light, the design of the apartment is out of a magazine, the ladies out of a naughty Vogue layout – but it’s hard to see what the point of the film is other than giving us a visual buzz – but that it does in spades.

Written up 04/2008