The two movies, Pushing Hands (1992) by Ang Lee and What Time is It There? (2001) by Tsai Ming-Liang, are all Taiwanese and share several differences as well as similarities. From the settings to characters through the storylines and themes, the two films depict certain similarities that most movie enthusiasts and analysts will notice, such as the theme of alienation of individuals who find themselves in a culture where things are starkly different than they expected, yet they must live there. This essay compares and analyses the two aforementioned movies, highlighting the differences and similarities between them.
This theme is also explored in What Time is It There? As the movies opens, Hsiao-Kang’s father dies, and his wife suffers from the obsession of her husband’s ghosts. Hsiao-Kang, who survives on selling watches, is scared of his mother’s experiences. The relationship between the son and mother is not quite amicable, which may be likened to the tense co-existence (or lack thereof) between Mr. Chun and his daughter-in-law (Tsai 2002). Moreover, in the same way Mr. Chun tries to create a connection with Mrs. Chen, Hsiao-Kang does the same with Shiang-chyi, a glamorous young lady who is travelling to Paris. To this end, Hsiao-Kang reluctantly sells off his beloved watch to the girl. After she leaves, Hsiao-Kang strives to make an imaginary bond with the girl by setting all watches he can find to Parisian time. Besides, as is evident in Pushing Hands when Mr. Chun suffers isolation and strives to cope with the western culture, Shiang-chyi finds Paris different than what she is used to in Taipei. She feels isolated while she adapts to the new ways of life.
Lastly, the two aforementioned movies tell almost identical stories of characters moving from one location to another, in which the new setting is different in terms of culture and social life. In Pushing Hands, for example, Mr. Chun, the Chinese Tai Chi teacher move from Beijing to New York to live with his son’s young family. While in Beijing the traditional Confucian rules apply, in New York things are different and Mr.Chun must adapt to the western culture which his son and daughter-in-law subscribe to (Ang 1992). In the second movie, Shiang-chyi moves from Taipei to Paris, two cities which are culturally different. This augments the theme of change and adaptation to it.
Lastly, the two movies are set in different locations. While Pushing Hands is set partly in Taiwan and Paris, the other film is set in New York and Beijing, from where Mr. Chun immigrates to New York. The two locations depict different cultural settings, which serve to bring out the respective themes in each film. In addition, while both films feature two old men (Mr. Chun in Pushing Hands and Hsiao-Kang’s father in What Time Is It There?) who are more traditional than the younger generation, the one in Pushing Hands lives through the movie, while Hsiao-Kang’s father passes on in the first minutes of the movie. What is more, Tsai’s movie explores traditional superstition by showing Hsiao-Kang’s mother struggling with her deceased husband’s ghosts. Similarly, Hsiao-Kang goes as far as urinating into cans for fear of meeting his late father’s ghosts at night. There is no such a phenomenon or its equivalent in Ang Lee’s film, Pushing Hands (1992). Lastly, in Pushing Hands, the first twenty minutes of the film show the latent conflict between Chun and his American daughter-in-law. The two refuse to talk or relate with each other. No such conflict or equivalent is evident in Tsai’s film. Instead, the filmmaker only explores attraction between Shiang-chyi and Hsiao-Kang. Although the latter is attracted to the former, his efforts to create a bond is seen as he sets all watches to Paris time, possibly to feel connected to the girl who he cannot see, because she is in another country where he cannot go.
The two movies explore isolation, cultural change, love attraction and reaction to changing times in interestingly related ways. However and as explained in this paper, the two filmmakers’ works are different in such things as location, ways of exploring cinematic themes and conflict development and resolution.
Tsai, Ming-Liang, dir. What Time Is It There? Arena Films, 2001. Film.
Ang, Lee, dir. Pushing Hands. Central Motion Picture Corporation, 1992. Film.