Black Holes of Globalization:
Critique of the New Millennium in Taiwan Cinema

By Ban Wang

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 15, no. 1, pp.90-119

In the study of Taiwan cinema, the issue of identity is political rather than a matter of image, style, aesthetics or reconfiguration of the mainstream patterns. At the millennial turning point, accompanied by the loud gospel of global markets, liberal democracy, and the end of history, identity is blithely dissolved into a free-floating, hybrid blur of nonidentity or advertised diversity in the supposedly denationalized, deterritorialized world. This paper seeks to demystify the delusion of the global melting pot of identities and argues that the much touted mix of ethnic and cultural identities can play into the controlling hands of the imperial power and corporate-sponsored globalization. The hegemonic power sees to it that everybody else’s identity is fluid and diasporic while its own is secured. The identity of Taiwan cinema needs to be seen as a strenuous aesthetic grappling with volatile geopolitical situations in the world of shifting, antagonistic nations and forces.

Two films, Tsai Mingliang’s Hole and Hou Hsiao-hsian’s Millennium Mambo, deal with the waning of identity, futuristic illusions, despair, and distress in the millennium moment. They offer a good occasion to enquire into how Taiwan responds to millennial capitalism and globalization. Both films suggest that something like recognizable Taiwanese identity, in the body politic and the individual’s body, is in deep trouble in the face of global economic and political trends. In a Kafasque humor The Hole delineates and critiques the dire, apocalyptic conditions as the millennium approaches. Hou Hsiao-hsian’s Millennium Mambo exhibits a loosening up of nostalgic attachment to the native land, the hallmark of his identity aesthetics. The story of urban youth is also one of millennial abandon and intense libidinal flow. Disoriented young people roam, in vain, to find an anchor, a home, a place. The free flow of libidinal energy reflects the faceless flow of capital and labor in the shaping of abstract human capital. .