The Hole (1998)

I approached The Hole with trepidation. My experience with The River left a lot to be desired and while I love the idea of Walker, it got boring fast to me. In the opening moments of this film I’m bracing myself for long, static shots with little action to take over the film. For a while, it feels that way.

Then things get crazy. A bizarre disease is causing people to act crazy and start crawling around. The government evacuates the apartment complex at the source of the disease, but The Man Upstairs (Lee Kang-Sheng) and The Woman Downstairs (Yang Kuei-Mei) decide to stay. A plumber breaks a hole in his floor (or her ceiling), making for some uncomfortable situations between the two tenants.

And while that sounds bleak and dreary, the film is interspersed with musical numbers set to upbeat love songs. This juxtaposition between decay and romantic sentiments makes for two drastically different tones. And often the musical numbers with the flashy costumes take place in the dreary, decaying apartment complex.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis comes to mind when thinking about the disease and apartment complex. There’s that sense of transformation into something disgusting and disease from the afflicted people. I’m also reminded of Albert Camus’s The Plague when the film explores this growing sense of everything breaking and decaying.

The film undercuts a lot of this stuff with wry humor. While The Woman Downstairs peels the soggy wallpaper dangling on her wall, she tells the person on the phone that she’s stripping. And there is the hole itself, which becomes the point of some funny moments when the two tenants start messing with the hole.

The film left me smiling. It’s a bizarre tonal mix and I’m not sure the film earns some of its moments, but there’s a goofy charm to this film that made me enjoy this. I’m curious to see more of Tsai’s goofy films because this is my type of humor. I think The Wayward Cloud is on the horizon.

© 2017 James Blake Ewing