When this film was slated for World Cinema, I had never heard of it, nor of its director, Ming-liang Tsai. Having now made their acquaintance, I frankly don’t know what to think of either. Is The Hole (1998) good or bad? Frankly, I don’t know. I tend to think it’s good, if you can appreciate what it sets out to be. My own problem is that The Hole is representative of a type of filmmaking I can’t appreciate and don’t enjoy. Movies that work on the basis of “one shot equals one scene,” with the camera usually in a depersonalized medium shot, simply don’t do a lot for me, and that’s the style in which The Hole is made.
At the same time, I have to say that the premise of The Hole is not without its interest. The film takes place in the near future (it’s part of a series in which late 1990s filmmakers were asked to imagine the year 2000) in a Taiwan where it rains perpetually and a strange virus has broken out—a Kafka-esque disease that makes the victim scuttle about like a roach and try to hide from the light. This has left the city in which the action takes place nearly deserted. Most of the film centers on one grubby apartment building where an inept plumber (in search of a leak) leaves a hole in the floor of one apartment, allowing its occupant to spy on the woman below. The hole is not merely another symbol of the rot that permeates the film, but the potential opening to one thing that seems not to exist in the world of the film at all: human interaction. In the midst of this, the film breaks off every so often for rather tepid—but comparatively colorful—musical fantasies, with characters lip-synching to recordings of Grace Chang. If nothing else, it’s unarguably different, and if you can tap into the film’s approach so much the better.