I wrote a preview of Help Me Eros (幫幫我愛神) last month after attending a talk by producer Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) and director Lee Kang-sheng (李康生) at NTU. I saw the film tonight and some of my thoughts follow.
Much attention has been given to the sex scenes, but they actually only make up a small part of the film. The real point of them is that despite the plethora of sex positions that Ah Jie (played by Lee Kang-sheng) engages in he never really connects emotionally with any of the women. What is more telling is that he never kisses any of the women. Instead he contents himself with blowing marijuana smoke into their mouths. Actually one of the strongest impressions in this movie is that Ah Jie's greatest love is marijuana. He even talks to the marijuana plants growing in his cupboard and there is hardly a scene where he is not smoking a joint.
Ah Jie has lost his money in the stock market. He contemplates suicide and chats with a lady at a telephone counselling service, the fat and unhappy Chyi. He imagines her to be someone far more attractive. Chyi also has to deal with her own loneliness as she is denied physical love by her gay husband who instead ingratiates (and fattens) her with food. This movie is really about loneliness. Despite people trying to fulfill their desires with sex, food and marijuana they still yearn for something more. That something is a meaningful human relationship.
The film is set in Kaohsiung. There are a few scenes were we see the Love River and some of the bright lights of the city. However, for the most part the action takes place in Ah Jie's apartment and the betel nut stand downstairs. The film is also rich in imagery and symbols. Some of these are presented in unique ways (I don't want to give too much away).
The movie is sure to attract a lot of attention for its sex scenes, betel nut girls and marijuana use. However, it is not necessarily a film that would appeal to everyone. Its pace is slow and there is not much of a plot. If you want to see a raw exploration of the emptiness of modern urban existence then see this film.
*the screening I saw in Taipei had no English subtitles.