Decision to Leave

Decision to Leave finds Park Chan-wook burrowing into, if not entirely new territory for South Korea’s preeminent crime filmmaker, then the foundations of his strongest aspects. The bifurcated telling of a detective’s (Park Hae-il) continuously shifting relationship with the wife (Tang Wei) of his latest investigation’s decedent, it operates almost polyrhythmically, letting the dead ends and often humorous tangents inherent to a bewildering murder case play out while remaining intently precise in its dealings with the beats from shot to shot. The visual schema constantly dazzles, employing bold diagonals, distorted and unexpected POVs, and superimpositions of digital information that playfully carries the film along its deliberately mirroring halves. But the true heart of the film rests in its potent riff on Vertigo, where identity is shaped along more ambiguous lines, and, above all, Tang’s performance, surely among the greatest by an actor not primarily speaking in their native language. Her capacity for simultaneous seeming total transparency and opacity molds the emotional tenors of the film, rendering it a tentative romance where the words — spoken in Korean or Mandarin — take on so many other unintended resonances. The entirely appropriate ending rings with such force because of the care and confidence placed in the proceedings, an exquisitely enigmatic dance which must end in the only way possible.

Triangle of Sadness

Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning follow-up to his Palme d’Or winning The Square epitomizes a certain contradiction: he is a director who I wish I didn’t like as much as I do. In its tripartite narrative, which follows the disintegration of a relationship over the course of increasingly absurd circumstances, Triangle of Sadness does, all things considered, have little else on its mind aside from the skewering of the nouveau riche as their environments get turned upside down by machinery, unwelcome workers, and eventually the natural world itself. But while Östlund’s aims are fairly pat, aside from a late-breaking development which productively deepens the complexities of otherwise steadily declining relationships, his skill lies in the actual orchestration of his scenes, and in the touches of comedy that arise from carefully placed running gags. As might be expected from such a scattershot approach, the good and the bad (and the ugly) intermix freely throughout, often in the same scene. Östlund’s spare aesthetic, mostly conveyed in long shot, and his facility with actors as anchoring presences — in The Square Claes Bang; here, Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, with Dolly de Leon coming to the fore in the last, crucially distended third — helps unite many of these sequences. And on some level, I find such devices as a woman who can only speak one German phrase, the elevation of aerosolized water to a necessary part of survival, and the sight of Woody Harrelson (as the Communist captain of the yacht which serves as the setting of the second act) and a Russian manure baron totally soused, reading Marx quotes back at each other over the intercom as the boat is battered by ocean waves irresistibly funny; your mileage will certainly vary.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

George Miller’s return to feature filmmaking after his career’s apotheosis Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) trades that film’s tactility and near-relentless narrative drive for something much more fantastical and circular, with largely mixed results. While Three Thousand Years of Longing takes as its jumping-off point the extended encounter between a narratologist (Tilda Swinton) and the djinn she unwittingly unleashes (Idris Elba), the film moves with uncertainty between their present-day hotel room and the simulacra of ancient times that the genie has experienced. Each of the three stories he tells revolves around the circumstances in which he was imprisoned, feeling free to meander through the massive, beautiful, and uncanny digital structures and the somewhat weaker stories, which vary between the joy of learning and the delight in grotesquerie. It truly is unfortunate that Miller’s worthy but limited effort — by his gleefully maximalist sensibilities that overwhelm the delicate tête-à-tête; by first too little, then too much footage of the present day; by a romance that, while affecting generally and carried out well by the two actors, feels schematic — came out just a year after Memoria. The fear and trembling in the face of the supernatural/extraterrestrial that Swinton conveyed so potently there reappears here in attenuated form; there is even a scene where the djinn acts as a radio receiver for all the noises of the modern world. Three Thousand Years of Longing and Miller himself are best in the moment, in little tricks and teleological progressions, which only inconsistently come to the surface here.

The Novelist’s Film

Something of a culmination of the love-story-as-narrative-arc that Hong Sang-soo has crafted with Kim Min-hee, The Novelist’s Film finds the two paired with Lee Hye-young, the latest major addition to his repertory ensemble. Unfolding mostly over the course of a day, the film tracks the novelist Jun-hee (Lee) as she pays a visit to the small town where her former friend resides. As she accumulates chance encounters with both familiar faces — a poet, a director — and new ones — recently reclusive actress Gil-soo, played by Kim — an idea for a short film comes to mind out of the small interactions she shares as both participant and observer. The film’s dynamic, and indeed that of Hong’s Kim films in general, is perfectly captured in Gil-soo’s introduction, walking briskly around a park in a leather jacket as Jun-hee happens to see her from afar: the character, the director, and the viewer are fortunate to find this remarkable woman at this time of life. She is nothing less than a burst of inspiration, an enrapturing person who in turn comes to absorb all of the incredible coincidences and hurtful memories that forms everyday life. With the coda, one of the most mysterious and moving scenes in Hong’s entire career, The Novelist’s Film enchanting and lovingly earnestness comes to full bloom.

Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time, James Gray’s dramatization of his childhood growing up in Queens in the year 1980, reads in many ways like the antithesis of Ricky D’Ambrose’s own Bildungskino released this year, The Cathedral: direct where the other is elliptical, far more overt in its reflection of the era’s politics (including pointed invocations of Reagan and improbable but true cameos from the Trump family), and concentrated in scenes of unsparing psychological detail. While Gray’s film seems in some ways like a reflection, conscious or unconscious, of the general structure of The 400 Blows — even opening with a scene where directorial stand-in Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) is disciplined in class and structuring its climax around an ill-advised, youthful theft of a machine — its emotional tenor is closer to that of the agonizing pain of Pialat’s response film L’Enfance nue.

It isn’t accurate to say that Armageddon Time — shot in digital in a first for Gray, albeit with fantastic film emulation — wallows in its fraught family dynamic, brilliantly carried along by Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong as the mercurial, caring, yet abusive parents and a game Anthony Hopkins as the beloved grandfather. There are more than a few flights of melancholy fancy, especially a particularly moving sequence that shows Paul transported into a fugue state upon seeing a Kandinsky painting at the Guggenheim, imaging his own future success as a painter. But Gray does not shy away from the ugliness of his upbringing: the lively but unpredictable crowded family dinners; the racism directed towards his Black friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb), which the Jewish Paul unthinkingly perpetuates through his claims of having a rich family without understanding the pain that his own ancestors went through; the continual struggle between his artistic aspirations and the cold reality of classroom discipline in both public and preparatory settings. As hokey as some of its beats can skew, this is still richly etched and beautiful work, where deliverance can only achieved through the sheer pragmatism of those who cannot succeed and a dawning realization of the rules of the game.

Three Minutes: A Lengthening

Three Minutes: A Lengthening isn’t exactly an inaccurate title, but there’s a lack of engagement with that sense of duration in this dissection of home-movie footage shot in a Polish Jewish village in 1938. As director Bianca Stigter looks at these fragments over and over, proceeding in strangely disconnected leaps between subject, form and otherwise, I couldn’t help but think of Ken Jacobs’s Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son. I’ve never seen it, but its exclusive repurposing of a single film sequence sounds like it offers a much more formally incisive view. Stigter (in her directorial debut; the mid-length film passes by reasonably quickly) doesn’t necessarily avoid this: aside from frequent cut-ins, the only times the film veers from full-frame archival footage are larger grids of faces, isolated moments across these frames that attempts to connect a larger sense of these real people. But the frequency of voiceovers, the degree to which personal accounts fail to deal with the actual implications of these moments lifted out of time — not three continuous minutes, which dilutes a claim to Bazinian reality that might buoy this otherwise — makes this an unfortunately unilluminating experience.

July 2022 Capsules

Ruggles of Red Gap
One of the best things about this is how each musical moment holds at least two meanings at the same time depending on perspective: a dance becomes a first expression of autonomy, a new chance at love, an irritating defiance; a drum session becomes an almost childlike wonder, a bemused courtship, a momentary setback alleived by money. What McCarey accomplishes so well is being able to do justice to all of them, to find the beauty and opportunities that this paradise offers.

Formalism Forever [THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER & LOS CONDUCTOS & IL BUCO]

The Girl and the Spider/Das Mädchen und die Spinne

Rating *** A must-see

Directed by Ramon and Silvan Zürcher

Los Conductos

Rating *** A must-see

Directed by Camilo Restrepo

Il buco

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino

I’ll freely admit at the start of this review that the links between these three remarkable 2022 (release year) films are tenuous at best. Time gets in the way of even the most trivial of interests — the reviews I write on this website, which by definition aren’t on commission — and it’s too long since I’ve seen these to give them their own proper standalone reviews. But I want to write on these films: in part because I never commented on the former two, and moreso because I feel like they’ve gotten lost in the shuffle even more than the typical small-scale arthouse release, even as they rank among my favorites of the year thus far. Additionally, Rosenbaum’s penchant for tackling multiple films in a single review has always appealed to me — even as I’ve only emulated it once — and it came to mind as a solution to my lapses in memory and energy. If the purpose of my reviews on Taipei Mansions is to shed light on such works, then I’m compelled to write on them.

Shedding light of course is a unifying theme: The Girl and the Spider, Los Conductos, and Il buco feature among their many qualities a compelling approach to the difference between day and night, light and darkness, and how these extremes intermix. They are also all the works of directors with very few features, though the path each has taken to get there varies tremendously.* Additionally, in a landscape increasingly dominated by longer and longer films, they all run less than 100 minutes; if not necessarily models of concision, they still stand out as relatively fleet works that still maintain a languid, or at least contemplative, atmosphere.

It’s difficult in some ways for me to properly assess whether these films can be said to truly exist outside of the mainstream of the festival landscape. Il buco, after all, was in competition at Venice, where it won the Special Jury Prize; both Los Conductos and The Girl and the Spider were two of the highest profile films in Berlin’s secondary Encounters section in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Especially with the deservedly strong attention towards Encounters (and the strategic placing of more prominent films in it), the simple distillation of a film’s location to the festivals and sections it played at can lead to blithe dismissal of quietly — or not-so-quietly — groundbreaking work.

As is always the case, the barometer ought to be the films themselves, and in light of that they begin to extricate themselves from the norm. All of the films, in keeping with the deserved decades-long preference for minimalism in art film, could be distilled down to a single sentence. The Girl and the Spider tracks the odd interactions and relationships across two apartment buildings in Bern, Switzerland, during two days and one night. What little plot that Los Conductos possesses rests in the movement of an unhoused man around Medellín, Colombia, tracking his attempts to survive and his fraught relationship with the society surrounding him. Il buco is mostly about the 1961 excursion into the Bifurto Abyss in Italy, then considered the third-deepest cave on Earth, while also leaving ample time to chronicle a shepherd’s slow demise. Already there are the hints of the details and motifs that each director teases out: the sheer density and queer eroticism of The Girl and the Spider, the somnambulant drift of Los Conductos, the urban-rural dichotomies of Il Buco, which also stands out for its lack of dialogue, only utilizing subtitles for a tangentially crucial archival news broadcast of the construction of the Pirelli Tower in Milan.

But each adopts its own style, the likes of which I haven’t quite seen in the contemporary landscape. In keeping with their debut, the Zürchers opt for an even more concentrated form of the close-up, almost geographic shooting style, often approaching the camera subject with a frontality that simultaneously makes clear and obscures the apartments; the film even begins with a PDF of the new apartment, an object which gets altered and shifted by human activity. Breaking from the mostly portraiture style of his shorts, Restrepo retains his use of grainy 16mm in photographing a barrage of close-ups on objects, using great tactility to ground and make tangible the near-ephemerality of the film’s narrative. I haven’t seen Le Quattro Volte, but Frammartino appears to follow a similar durational style, albeit with substantially more complications: in order to shoot the film Frammartino and his non-actors actually made roughly thirty-five voyages into the abyss, shooting with no lighting save the period-accurate helmet lights and undergoing a four-hour journey each way in addition to the demands of shooting.

What these films all share, besides their awkward placement between the mainstream and the underground, is this attention to space. Two of them are shot on digital, one isn’t; two of them use rapid editing, one doesn’t; two have a legible sense of a narrative arc, one doesn’t. But all of them use space as a jumping off point, none of them content to simply showcase directorial style, and all seeking to transform a place while taking care not to rob it of its essential characteristics. In the case of Il buco, Frammartino even manages to engineer something with a greater sense of spectacle than any film of the past few years: it’s one thing to witness the spelunkers in a journey that only ends when they reach the literal end, it’s another thing entirely to see the results of something like their method of ascertaining the depth of a cavern by setting a magazine page aflame and dropping it, watching the light slowly disappear into the distance.

And the most notable connecting point of all is each film’s devotion to a certain form of impossibility, a slight inflection of the “real world” that makes it uncanny and even otherworldly. The bright colors and melancholy bitterness of The Girl and the Spider; the reflection of downtrodden, vengeful young Colombian men in Los Conductos; the purposeful anticlimax of two ends in Il buco that gets miraculously transformed into an almost Fordian elegy: all of these films utilize the viscerality of their styles to convey engrossing complexity which, in my eyes, few filmmakers today have tried to match.

*Ramon Zürcher made The Strange Little Cat in 2013, and is officially joined by his brother Silvan (who co-produced his debut) for The Girl and the Spider. After a string of well-received shorts, including “Cilaos” and “La bouche,” Camilo Restrepo makes his feature debut with Los Conductos; it remains to be seen whether he has a similarly lengthy amount of time between films as the other directors do. Michelangelo Frammartino has his third film, and his first since Le Quattro Volte from 2010.

June 2022 Capsules

Flowers of Shanghai
I’ve never heard Shanghainese at such length before, and while I’m sure this film would be every bit as great in Mandarin or even Cantonese — it kind of sounds like Leung is dubbed when he isn’t speaking Cantonese, his voice is a little higher — it adds so much to the film. I have little knowledge of the mechanics of Shanghainese, but it sounds like it is either toneless or has tones that are much less pronounced than in other dialects. This creates a much more even-toned sound quality, an aural texture every bit as hypnotic as those repeated music cues, those tracking shots, those different yet similar narratives of decline and possibility.

Misguided Warriors [EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE]

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

I don’t usually like to make my life and background the focus of my reviews, since my general inclinations are to let my observations assume their personality from what I choose to write about and to not interfere with the text itself. But Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once begs for me to consider it in light of this. There are certain aspects of myself that, for various reasons, I can’t bring into this piece, but suffice it to say that this film — in how eerily and perfectly it captures my relationships with my parents and my heritage, along with my present circumstances — should have absolutely destroyed me, serving as an absurdist funhouse mirror that nevertheless contained my recognizable visage at the center. That it doesn’t do so (leaving aside any likely emotional deficiencies that I possess) stems from, among other things, its utterly counterproductive ambitions and its ultimate shortsightedness with regards to a certain view of Chinese-American experiences, along with its misunderstanding of Michelle Yeoh; I should say here up front that my parents are from Taiwan while the Wangs are from Hong Kong, but as I’ll get into this slight difference might be even less significant than it originally appears, to the film’s detriment.

Before fully diving in, I do wonder how much of my response to Everything Everywhere All at Once is a direct reaction to the way it has been received as a landmark of Chinese/Chinese-American representation in United States film. It’s certainly something I’ve considered, and has been at least a small part of my negative feelings towards Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell (and, much more tangentially, Minari for Asian-Americans generally). While the merits of these films vary wildly, it’s impossible not to notice that the main thing linking all these films together is that most common of narrative devices, especially with respect to Asians: family. I don’t mean to imply at all that filmmakers of Asian descent should avoid trying to make films explicitly about family; Edward Yang’s Yi Yi is my favorite Chinese-language film after all, and everyone from Fei Mu to Tsai Ming-liang has at one point or another explored what it means to be part of a family. But what comes across as a more quotidian or allegorical concern in those films is “elevated” to something of near-life-or-death consequences, the battle between the parent who wants to preserve the family unit at all costs versus the child who yearns to become more free, who implicitly wants to assimilate (or has) into the Western culture in which they live.

Such a conflict is ballooned, in the style of Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s co-producers and Marvel Cinematic Universe helmers Anthony & Joe Russo, so that Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) must literally save not only the world or the universe, but also the entirety of existence across innumerable parallel universes. As self-consciously ludicrous and unwieldy as the film gets, this struggle is more-or-less construed as, in the film’s twisted logic, the reason everything bad that has ever happened. The various events, no matter when they take place and whether Evelyn and Joy (Stephanie Hsu) are in them, are unmoored and then knit together by the presence of these two people: a mother and a daughter.

I don’t plan to get too much into the head-spinning and likely totally confused weeds of the multiverse, but instead to concentrate on the family relationships plural: for much of the film, due to the apparently unbelievably dangerous force that Joy/Jobu Tupaki — is that meant to be a bastardization of something in Chinese? Doesn’t seem to resemble anything I can remember — possesses, Waymond (Quan Kế Huy) is Evelyn’s companion and mentor, and her father (James Hong) makes a number of appearances, though always presented at a remove. The opening of the film, before part 1’s title “Everything” appears, feels very much in the vein of a recent trend in films that people like the Safdies seem to have ushered in: a barrage of colliding work and family priorities as Evelyn navigates the hectic laundromat patrons, her muddled taxes subject to review by the IRS, her impending Chinese New Year celebration, and of course her ongoing disagreements with Joy over her desire to introduce Becky (the great Tallie Medel, for once flattened into standard bland independent film acting) as her girlfriend to her Gong Gong. If that wasn’t enough, the hapless Waymond is attempting to serve Evelyn divorce papers on that same day, never mind the fact that the spouse can’t actually serve the other spouse their divorce papers.

Of course, this fits Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s general “anything goes” approach, but in doing so it leaves no room to breathe or to consider how this family arrived in this situation. While the flashbacks and alternate branches attempt to fill in Evelyn’s backstory in particular, it’s implied by omission that nothing of importance happened at all during the twenty-some years between Evelyn and Waymond’s emigration to Simi Valley, a span of time only captured by wistful-then-caustic childhood memories captured in 4:3 — the film also follows the current trend of shifting aspect ratios, using 4:3 for flashbacks, 1.85:1 for “normal” scenes and various other pastiches, and 2.35:1 for the martial arts/action sequences, never mind the fact that Yeoh’s prime Hong Kong-era work was shot in 1.85:1.

Indeed, Hong Kong and its place within Everything Everywhere All at Once, especially in relation to Yeoh, forms a prime factor in my mistrust of it and its supposed Chinese-American bona fides. One of the most immediately glaring factors comes in language: the film takes great pains to show the fluid, almost subconscious nature of how immigrants switch between two languages, speaking a few words amid a sentence and/or an entire sentence in English, even when the thought is meant to be conveyed in Chinese. This is really pretty admirable, and very reflective of how I’ve observed my parents interact over the years. However, there’s a confusion that likely isn’t discernible to any viewer who doesn’t have knowledge of Chinese: Evelyn and Waymond, despite (seemingly) being from Hong Kong, speak in Mandarin; this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that Evelyn and her father speak Cantonese to each other throughout, which isn’t reflected in the subtitles at all. Even in the flashback scenes, including the pivotal one where Evelyn and Waymond decide to leave together for America against her father’s wishes, the two of them are speaking Mandarin. The most cynical interpretation would be that the filmmakers deliberately chose Mandarin over Cantonese in an effort to further appeal to the mainland Chinese market; I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but it’s carried out at such length that I wonder if it was the filmmakers’ unfamiliarity with the language or some other factor that led to this break with their characters’ place of birth.

This, however, isn’t as egregious as Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s near-total abandonment of Chinese for large sections of the film. It certainly can’t be a coincidence that the Alpha Waymond and Alpha Gong Gong, the two characters who have the brunt of the exposition that hurriedly explains the rules and quirks of the multiverse, exclusively speak English with Yeoh responding in kind, even in the scenes that are slower and more heartfelt. This could be maybe weakly explained away by the Alpha universe not utilizing Chinese anymore, though it *is* worth noting that the only other people seen in the technologically advanced Alpha universe are not Asian, which sticks out in a film mostly committed to casting as many Asians in speaking parts as possible. If I remember correctly, Chinese isn’t spoken in the climax at all save for Evelyn’s final acceptance of Joy, for me a very affecting scene that nevertheless speaks to many of the film’s ultimate problems, which I’ll get to in a moment.

First, I have to talk about Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s main draw: Michelle Yeoh, who eventually decidedly won out over my hatred of the wretched Swiss Army Man, Kwan and Scheinert’s previous directorial collaboration. The film is clearly in large part a tribute to and vehicle for Yeoh; while it’s patently false to claim this as Yeoh’s first starring role, it does aim to showcase her talents, though the action here generally doesn’t have anything near the weight of golden era Hong Kong cinema. I can’t be so contrarian to claim that, say, her recent supporting performance in Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is better than this (though it’s close), and she is indeed very strong in both martial arts poses and emotional vigor alike. But the more this ventures into a meta-text, the more it fails to come close to the pathos of Yeoh’s actual career. The universe that gets the most screen time — the hot dog fingers one is likely a close second — is the one where Evelyn breaks up with Waymond stays in Hong Kong. After getting mugged, she decides to learn kung fu — her female master is played by Li Jing, best known for doing stunts in the awful live-action Mulan; in a film where Yeoh, Quan, Hong, and even the originally cast Awkwafina (in Hsu’s role) were likely all chosen at least in part for their metatextual resonances, this uninspired choice is one of countless missed opportunities in the film — and become essentially Michelle Yeoh. While she retains her Evelyn name, it’s genuinely kind of stunning when the film cuts to actual red carpet footage, a piercing of the thick veil that the film has wrapped around itself in order to fully cement its connection to reality — even if it is for the personally offensive Crazy Rich Asians.

But Yeoh, who was born in Malaysia to a Malaysian Chinese family, didn’t grow up in Hong Kong or learn kung fu in order to break into the entertainment industry. As laid out by Sean Gilman in his typically essential MUBI Notebook article, she, like Cheng Pei-pei and Zhang Ziyi, never learned kung fu, instead utilizing her ballet training to aid in her understanding of the moves, along with her daredevil approach to doing her own stunts. Additionally, she grew up speaking English and Malay, even deciding to go down the career path of action rather than comedy where she felt her still-burgeoning Cantonese wasn’t good enough; she had to learn her Mandarin lines in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — still the greatest performance of hers for me, and in a number of ways a vastly superior consideration of what it is to be a woman and mother (figure) in Chinese-centered society — phonetically. Quan’s history, while less storied, still remains complicated; he was born in Saigon to a Hoa family with Han Chinese ancestry. If I’m not mistaken, they were of Cantonese descent, and he resided briefly in Hong Kong before emigrating to the United States, thereafter bouncing back and forth between the two continents on film shoots during his hiatus from acting; endearingly, he still retains something of the squeakiness of his voice from his role as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Kwan & Scheinert, however, for all the supposed imagination they possess, can’t seem to bother with crafting anything close to the immensely complex and fascinating possibilities that Chinese heritage, across national and local borders, possesses. Their ideas of heritage in this lugubrious 139 minute film are simply reduced to “Hong Konger chooses to defy her parents and move to America.” Even a film that takes a decision to immigrate as a starting point, like Mabel Cheung’s lovely An Autumn’s Tale, or as a late-breaking plot point, like Peter Chan’s masterpiece Comrades: Almost a Love Story, knows that cities and places are realms to inhabit and to render as believable places full of genuine interactions, that there is a specific relationship that Chinese people have between their homeland and this strange new place they’ve come to.

When I was growing up in Irvine, where Asians formed a sizable proportion of the population, I was fairly blasé with my ethnicity, shrugging off attempts to learn Chinese and becoming rapidly bored with my family’s semi-frequent trips to Taiwan and China. As I started to live in a city where I habitually interacted with people of different heritages and became more obsessed with Chinese film, I found my love for my native country, experiencing a pronounced longing that still persists within me.

In Simi Valley, which is overwhelmingly White and where Chinese people make up 1.2% of the population, I’d expect there to be more of a desire to engage with what it means to leave a place. After all, in a multiverse that has room for a 2-D animated world, an admittedly very funny and well-executed Earth where no life developed and Evelyn and Joy are manifested as rocks, and a party where the two women are piñatas, it would seem that getting an idea of what a place means to a person, whether they live in it or apart from it, would be essential to ground the film. But there is apparently no room for such supposedly mundane considerations even in a film called Everything Everywhere All at Once, even in one where the mundane issue of not revealing a child’s sexual orientation to their grandfather — something immensely common in a Chinese-American culture where Evelyn’s very acceptance of Joy’s queerness isn’t the norm — lights the fuse for the near-collapse of existence.

Before going further, I should mention that Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t all bad, and has some interesting and genuinely really good parts. Yeoh, Hsu, Quan, and Hong are all quite strong and do their best to sell the ludicrous sentimentality of the film; Hsu especially does well with the attitude and blithe disregard that her villainous incarnations have to play. And there’s a stretch of about thirty seconds when Yeoh entirely fractures the multiverse that, in its rapid editing using Yeoh (I think) as its focal point, plays like something close to Jodie Mack.

However, it’s easy to nitpick Everything Everywhere All at Once, given its sprawling canvas and refusal to let even the smallest gag be resolved in a non-happy ending — the implication of course being that this one declaration of love is enough to right the wrongs across all manifestations of space and time. I could point to my annoyance with the laundromat showing some British-Indian musical romance with dancing — even without probable colonialist intimations, why isn’t it a Chinese film? It could even have been an homage to Li Han-hsiang’s heartbreaking The Love Eterne, one of the most popular films in Hong Kong history and itself, via a simple but devastating conceit, a watershed queer film that might have played off well against the supposed central issue.

There’s even the issue of the Wong Kar-wai homage, which bafflingly deploys the green filter used on In the Mood for Love‘s Criterion reimagining. Quan’s suit certainly recalls Tony Leung’s, though I don’t think Yeoh is wearing a cheongsam; Quan was the assistant director on 2046, while Yeoh of course has never been in a Wong film. But aside from a few blurred/step-framed shots, the film is shot in the same bland digital as the rest of the film, with fixed frames and shots that are just-off-center, coming nowhere close to the hazy romanticism of Wong’s films. Like everything else in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and utterly unlike Wong, who even introduces complexity into his voiceovers, there’s no depth, no ambiguity as to what’s being depicted or discussed; it’s simply a near-monologue by Waymond recounting his abiding longing for Evelyn.

That very lack of depth is what makes the insufferably simple resolution ring so hollow, where “the everything everywhere all at once was love” is the message the viewer is *supposed* to take away from Everything Everywhere All at Once. While love is unconditional, the circumstances in which you see loved ones are not; love (at least between humans) can be in some ways strengthened by distance and should be seen as something that takes so many different forms. But Kwan and Scheinert see love as an unyielding thing that can be sealed by a single act; even Evelyn’s decision to let go is repaid by Joy coming back instead of going into the abyss. That it comes so close to getting it, so close to getting me and my situation, makes it bother me all the more.