The Hand

Three well-known directors were approached to each make a segment in the film EROS in which the themes of romance and sex were to be artistically explored. The films from Soderbergh and Antonioni were generally met with critical yawns, but the piece from Wong Kar-wai received a very positive response – and for good reason. It is simply terrific - another chapter in his obsession with 60's Hong Kong in which he again lushly hones in on his usual themes of unrequited love, desire, loneliness and despair. In this short story like format though, these themes are condensed and crystallized to the raw heartbreaking essentials – in shorthand strokes Wong generates emotional electricity that is devastatingly sad. And at times unnervingly sensual.  Considering how legendary Wong is for his long drawn out creative process in films like 2046 and Ashes of Time, it is always amazing how effectively he can work in a short time period in such as this (made during a halt in the shooting of 2046) and Chungking Express (made during a break in the shooting of Ashes in Time).
Once again Wong Kar-wai pulls us into his world of dimly lit claustrophobic interiors, cooling fans, alluring curvaceous cheongsams and tight suits – this is a small companion piece to In the Mood for Love and 2046 as it too takes place over a number of years in the 1960’s and like those films is nearly oblivious to the global or local changes that were taking place during this period – instead he aims straight at the heart with an insulated story of repressed desires and painful regrets. One wonders though if these three films in tracking various relationships is also meant symbolically to trace Hong Kong as it goes from early 60’s sleek elegance to the more crass commercialism that the end of the decade brought on. The beauty of Hong Kong and its styles slowly degrade as do the loves and lives of his characters.

Miss Hua (Gong Li) is a high living courtesan/prostitute who is at the top of her game – men desire her and pay for the privilege of her company and bedside manner – and she returns these favors with a mix of purrs, sexuality, derision, manipulation and sneers as she uses men like chess pieces to provide her with a good life. One afternoon an apprentice tailor named Zhang (Chang Chen) shows up to make her clothes for the first time. In an astonishingly sensual scene he is kept waiting in the living room as sounds of lovemaking from her bedroom begin to arouse him. Finally he is brought in and she notices his state and asks him bluntly “What’s going on there” and after he embarrassingly hides his hands over the evidence she demands that he take off his pants. Upon doing so, she reaches over and slowly and professionally brings him to a climax with her hand – and afterwards tells him “Remember this feeling and you’ll make me beautiful clothes.”

Over the next few years he becomes her tailor and though this scene is never repeated and no hint of intimacy exists between them, he does indeed make her beautiful clothes and falls in love with this near mythic beauty. But he also begins to witness her fortunes declining as age and sickness catch up and usurp her beauty – in small ways at first as she no longer can command men but has to cajole them and gradually desperation creeps into her voice, her clients go elsewhere and the realization of her future or lack of it begins to crack through her facade of calm. She disappears for a long while but then returns to Hong Kong – now living in a fifth rate hotel where she can service men that she trolls for on the waterfront – but there is one last chance – an old customer from America is in town and she needs beautiful clothes to hide her physical corroding and she calls Zhang for one last favor. He still loves her and comes to her seedy broken down room and the atmosphere is drenched with sexual need as he measures her – “I know your figure well. I’ll just use my hands.” “Do you still remember how we met” she asks him. “And do you remember my hand.”
Just as you may think Wong Kar-wai has gone to the same well too often he comes up with this gem that is searing in its sense of lost chances and regrets. Gong Li is a Goddess in this - haughty, sexy, commanding and in the end painfully vulnerable and some of her looks as photographed by Christopher Doyle will strangle you with their ferocious beauty. It is also somewhat shocking to see her in such a sexually charged (though by no means explicit) role – her final scene will rip out your insides with its pent up tragic passion.

My rating for this segment (8.0) – the other two segments were not viewed.

Reviewed by Anabela Voi You

Eros has received a lot of hype and publicity. If you are interested enough to read this,  you probably know that it’s a trilogy of short films made by great masters of film. At least that’s what the publicity department has advertised. In Eros only Wong’s “The Hand” attempts to answer the question of what is love. The other two shorts are art-house unintentional self-parodies. These other two films’ near irrelevance on the topic of love and eroticism should have led to a complete change of title altogether, and Wong should have had enough sense to not group his very competent short with the other two. Wong’s short “The Hand” is brilliant, ingenious, and the best film in the entire history of the universe, well, compared to the other two pieces of crap. “The Hand” shines because the standard of the other films is so low. Christopher Doyle should be the official photographer for all beautiful Chinese people and things. The way he presented Gong Li reflects the ideal Chinese feminine beauty which is comprised of these elements such as the hour-glass figure, the qibao costume, flawless, light, luminescent complexion, perfect coiffeur, and a coquettish attitude. Although she’s certainly aged as her once lovely, buoyant face has gone concave, Gong Li’s acting is just as good as before – natural, effortless, appropriate portrayal of her character. I realized Chang Chen was very good because he managed to make me feel sorry for the poor fellow without feeling he was manipulating the audience into doing so. I am glad to have seen “The Hand” because I do think it’s a beautiful and an interesting short story.
The Soderbergh piece “Equilibrium” was my potty break. To begin with Sex, Lies, Videotape wasn’t all that other than the title is pretty damn cool, so I never thought of Soderbergh’s films as high viewing priorities. I’m sure this piece has something cleverly hidden like a David Lynch film, but really, I just don’t bother anymore and have other riddles to solve. I rolled my eyes royally and started giggling at all the wrong places. I didn’t follow the story although there hardly was any. In any case this short was in black and white (as if it adds to its appeal), and it’s about this 1950s yuppie (Robert Downey, Jr.) who’s rambling about his relationship problems to a disinterested (who can blame him?) shrink. Robert Downey, Jr. must have been desperate to feed his habit to have acted in this short. It’s just tedious viewing: if I see another paper airplane, I swear I will jam the corner into the eye of whoever thought it was a good idea to make this piece. I looked around the theater and wondered what was wrong with me: Why were other people interested in this? Were they pretending depth? I was relieved when it was over, and after “The Hand,” Eros as a whole film progressively worsened - little did I know that the badness of “Equilibrium” could be outdone by the next piece that followed.
I don’t care what revolution in film Michelangelo Antonioni achieved before, but his “Il filo pericoloso delle cose" is just so stupid it’s beyond pretentious. The story is just about some Italian jetsetters with relationship problems who go back to Italy to bang other Italians. Wow, what a story. And they needed a scriptwriter for that. I suppose it’s a “mood” piece without a purposeful script but with erotic visuals, although the women, even though they were often naked, evoked little eroticism in comparison to Gong Li’s performance. The acting was so bad that porn stars are better actors - the lines were spoken with the wrong timing, and the “acting” was unnatural, contrived, and constipated dramatizing. One guy spoke American English and the woman also did except her accent escaped her sometimes, and the dude drove a Maserati which led me to wonder why they spent money on getting a Maserati instead of hiring better actors. I disliked those characters so much I wanted to send them to live in an Afghan cave. Bored jetsetters aren’t exactly characters the average person will like or identify with. In fact, it probably produces the opposite effect en masse. The unintentional absurdity of the lines and their inability to convey “depth” when it’s supposed to is quite amusing and does provide some comic relief. At the end of the credits I was astounded to find out this crap had a producer? Where did they find an idiot like that? The fool and his money are soon parted.
Jack Matthews of The New York Daily News describes Eros perfectly in my opinion, “When the producers of "Eros," a triptych of short stories about eroticism and desire, described what they wanted from Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, American Steven Soderbergh and Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni, they must have written the memo in Chinese.”
The only good boy who did his homework and followed directions was Wong Kar-Wai. The other two should go to the principal’s office, call their mothers, and be suspended. Just because you put naked women in it, it doesn’t mean it answers the questions complexities of love and eroticism. “The Hand” didn’t put a single naked woman in it, but it’s far more erotic, and answers many questions about love and human bondage in some way or another. While I didn’t enjoy 2046 I enjoyed “The Hand” because I thought it continued the spirit of In the Mood for Love whose wistful spirit and beauty of pathos was freshly applied to a new set of characters and story.
Rating: 8 for "The Hand." As for "Equilibrium" and the Italian piece, even Brian's system of 1-2 ratings is too kind.