Sorry for the delay, at least I'm not the last one.
Woman Sesame Oil Maker
This is not a bad film at all, but it's not all that good either. The best way to describe it is to say that it's a victimization melodrama that consciously tries to avoid the trappings of the style by having the victimization mostly linger in the atmosphere and the downplaying the melodrama. That should be a plus for me, because this story done in an overbearing style would make me hate it, but the problem is that it downplays its central thrust but doesn't replace it with anything. Plot points come up seemingly only to raise or diminish the main character and never develop emotional or narrative resonance, overblown drama ensues but is quickly cleaned up so that it feels meaningless, and the film's central theme of the constraints of Chinese society on love, particularly for women, is pretty obvious rather early and never really develops. It just shows us something kind of bad, and we nod our head in agreement and that's that. The print was a bit faded but the cinematography still stands out as pretty good, and the lead actress is strong enough to carry a film, though neither of these things is special enough to make the film a must see. It's not my kind of movie, and while it's good enough to avoid turning me off it wasn't good enough to actively engage me.
Typical for a Tsai film, this one is a slow burner. It grabbed me at the start, but then throughout the film kept letting me go before grabbing me again. The premise is interesting enough, as are the characters, and many of the individual scenes are quite effective at conveying the fleeting connection and alienation themes of the movie. In between those scenes there are others that just feel like padding. More than Woman Sesame Oil Maker, however, I felt something for these characters as real people, rather than simply stand ins for a theme, even with the minimal dialogue. There's a bubbling of life and emotion under the surface of the film that you can feel, and some very evocative shots to bring those feelings up close to the surface. It's not a perfect experience, I don't think Tsai's style is quite right for me, but it's something I can appreciate and if I found myself in the right mood I'd be interested in revisiting this.
Verdict: The favourite goes on, it's Vive L'Amour.