Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the film’s director, was present at the Metropolis film house in Hamburg for the premiere of his film tonight. But he received no applause at the end. This Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style love-story film was a disappointment. In fact it was not a film, “just a scenario,” based loosely of a short 70s French film by the same title. The red balloon is China. It’s also the main characters, who struggle to get their lives together. But too many drawn out scenes with mortorcycles or text-messaging with silly bathroom conversations turned this creative idea into a slow-paced faux French film.
I had high expectations since Hou’s films have been awarded prizes from prestigious international festivals such as the Venice Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival and the Nantes Three Continents Festival. This is the first Hou film I’ve seen, but he must be good if he was voted “Director of the Decade” for the 1990s in a poll of American and international critics put together by The Village Voice and Film Comment. Hou’s films rarely show outside film festival circuits. And despite such acclaim, his work in Le Voyage de Balloon Rouge is probably receiving more praise than it should. For those with a certain relationship with the director it might be offensive to suggest it was a bad film. So here’s why: the actors were lifeless and nearly fearful of the camera. It was tirelessly drawn out and boring. It was painfully austere. The drama was sparse. I was sure whether to laugh or fall asleep. A thought quickly passed that I was watching a badly-scripted student film.