In WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?, a young watch salesman in Taiwan falls for a young Christian woman, but she moves to Paris. Troubled by the behavior of his mother who prays constantly for the spirit of her late husband to return, Hsiao-Kang takes refuge in the memory of his encounter with Shiang-Chyi. In a humorous effort to bridge the miles between them, he runs around Taiwan setting all the clocks to Paris time. Meanwhile, in Paris, Shiang-Chyi confronts events that mysteriously seem to be connected with Hsiao-Kang.
Director Ming-Liang Tsai is a master of holding shots until they surprise the audience with unique insights. He has a keen eye for the foibles of human nature. The cinematography is reminiscent of a Chinese painting. The humor is poignant and revealing. The actors are so real as to be their characters. The audience empathizes with them. Regrettably, however, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? turns out to be a message movie, and the message is: worship the dead. Spiritism is abhorrent to God. We do not need to fear the spirits of the dead. In Jesus Christ, we have complete freedom from spirits, powers and principalities.
(OOO, FRFRFR, PaPa, AbAb, C, Ho, L, V, HH, SS, N, A, D, M) Spiritism worldview with dead father appearing at the end of movie & Buddhist priests offering prayers to the dead with very anti-Christian reference as well as a Christian moment & brief homosexual sex scene; 5 obscenities & man relieves himself several times in bottles & bags; fight between mother & son; homosexual proposition, masturbation, fornication with prostitute, & brief lesbian sex scene; woman in underwear & male rear exposed; alcohol; smoking; and, stealing, re-setting clocks, lying, & prayers to spirits.
WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?: NI NEI PIEN CHI TIEN is a humorous, meticulously crafted movie from Taiwan which eventually affirms and promotes spiritism while ignoring the illogical nature of this belief system. WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? has some great insights into human character and appears, at first, to be on the right track, but then crashes into the confusion of spiritism and sexual gratification.
Hsiao-Kang sells watches in the streets of Taipei for a living. When his father dies, he and his mother are deeply affected. He feels that the house is haunted and is afraid to leave his room to go to the bathroom, so he uses plastic bags and bottles in his room to relieve himself.
A few days after his father’s death, he meets a young woman, Shiang-Chyi, who wants to buy a watch from him. In fact, she wants to buy the watch that he is wearing. He tells her that it is bad luck, because his father just died. She persists saying that she is a Christian and doesn’t believe in luck. So, he sells her the watch. As it turns out, Shiang-Chyi leaves for Paris the very next day.
Troubled by the behavior of his mother who prays constantly for the spirit of her late husband to return, Hsiao-Kang takes refuge in the memory of his brief encounter with Shiang-Chyi. In an effort to bridge the miles between them, he runs around setting all the watches and clocks in Taipei to Paris time. His mother, in turn, starts to set the table for the dead father, blacks out all the lights in the house and goes into her own twilight world.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Shiang-Chyi confronts events that mysteriously seem to be connected with Hsiao-Kang. Eventually, she shares a room with another Chinese girl and initiates a lesbian sex scene which is rebuffed. Rejected, she takes to the streets where Hsiao-Kang’s father appears at last to help her.
At the beginning, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? has some very funny moments. Most of these moments seem to be mocking the stupidity of the belief in the spirits of the dead. Even the Buddhist priests are humorous. However, the movie eventually embraces spiritism and portrays the Christian woman as the person who succumbs to lesbian feelings and then has to rely on the dead father to save her.
Furthermore, when all seems lost for each of the characters, sexual gratification seems to be the answer to their problems. The mother masturbates in front of a picture of the father. Hsiao-Kang has sex with a prostitute. Shiang-Chyi tries to initiate a lesbian affair.
Director Ming-Liang Tsai is a master of holding shots until they surprise the audience with unique insights. He has a keen eye for the foibles of human nature. The humor is poignant and revealing. The cinematography is notable for its spare focus on the essentials, in the manner of a Chinese painting. The actors are so real as to be their characters. The audience empathizes with them.
This is a well made, purposely slow movie. Regrettably, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? turns out to be a message movie, and the message is: worship the dead.
Spiritism is abhorrent to God. We do not need to fear the spirits of the dead. In Jesus Christ, we have complete freedom from spirits, powers and principalities. The logic of the movie’s position is deeply flawed, and the filmmakers seem to understand this in the beginning because they point out the humor that follows from worshipping the dead. Perhaps, they did this just to pull the teeth of any negative criticism of their position. If so, they failed at the end to make a case for the appearance of the father and the help he brings.
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”
— Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NIV)
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