The year is 1999. Taiwan has lost much of its population due to a virus that's rapidly spreading. Two neighbours are living in an apartment building that is close to falling apart. The one neighbour, the guy, has the apartment above the woman and when she gets a problem with a leaking pipe in the ceiling, it leads to a big hole between the two apartments. While the two struggle to survive the last couple of days of the millennium, the hole becomes a gateway to something they're missing: intimacy.
I'm not sure what one guy on IMDb was thinking when he wrote that this was the slowest movie he ever saw, even slower than Tarkovsky and Tarr. I already knew it would be a slow movie going into it, but I'm glad I didn't read his comment before I did as it's an extreme misfire on his part. The movie is slow, but no slower than any other drama. It's only 95 minutes long and it's rather minimalistic in terms of plot, but shockingly slow it's not. That said, this is a film that grows on you the further you get into it. It's not until the last quarter or so that I was fully swallowed by the story, which ended up making the first parts of it much more interesting too.
I adore the plot: the year 2000 is close, and an epidemic is spreading in Taiwan. Something called the "Taiwan Fever". It's believed to be spread by cockroaches, and if you get the fever you will start acting like an insect, crawling around and cram yourself into damp, unhealthy places. And then you eventually die. The heavy, constant rain doesn't really help either. The movie follows two tenants in an apartment building, and they live below/above each other. The woman downstairs is having a problem with a water leaking from the ceiling, so a plumber knocks on the door of the guy upstairs to see if there are any leaks in his apartment. When they find a broken pipe in the floor of the living room, they break the floor to reach it. And then it's left that way. The torn up floor soon becomes a hole between the two apartments, and this builds tension between the two lonely tenants. The guy's life consists of working in the store (also in the building) and feeding the cat down there. When he gets home he slowly becomes obsessed with studying the hole and wondering what the woman down there is doing. The woman, on the other hand, is slowly going crazy from the leaks in her house. Soon there's a leak in the bathroom every time he flushes.
I think you can split this movie into a few sections. On one hand it portrays the paranoia that was going around when 2000 was closing in, but not shown through technology or "the system", but rather through humanity. It's also about loneliness, the need to have someone in your life and the desperation it can lead to. And finally there's a glimpse of a romantic musical, which seems to focus mostly on love. Which I guess goes hand in hand with the second section, but watching the movie it's very seperate. While the movie is extremely bleak and damp (literally as well), the musical scenes bring out lights and colors, joy and most importantly: love. They're comedic and silly - a heavy contrast to the rest. At first it's hard to know why these are there, but with each new musical number it seems to make more and more sense. The ending especially.
Being mostly a story of two people in a building that is falling apart, and mostly taking place within that building without the two people physically interaction, it's easy to understand why it's such a slow movie. But it also makes sense for the ending to have an impact that the two don't get a lot of scenes that literally are "together". It was quite a terrific story to follow once you got into it, and what might've hooked you in the beginning becomes secondary towards the end. To me that was the epidemic. In the end it doesn't feel as literal as it originally did.
There's not much to say about acting or anything else here, other than that it being good. But one thing that stands out above everything else is the building. It's almost like a character of its own. It's constantly reminding you about this fictive apocalyptic world, as we almost constantly hear the water flowing from the rain and the leaks, and always see the rotten state of the place. There's almost more desperation in the building than in the characters at times. A very good representive of the epidemic, the loneliness and that it's closer and closer to the end.
"The Hole" (because it feels silly writing "Dong") was a lot more interesting than I had expected, but also slightly more hopeful. It is bleak and depressing most of the time but the added musical numbers give us hope back. And it's hard to deny the ending which definitely is a feelgood moment of the movie. Had it worked better without the musical scenes? I'm not sure, but they definitely grew on me with the rest of the movie. Worth a watch if you want something absurd yet touching!