Eros is a multi-national omnibus compilation movie comprised of three half-hour short films by master filmmakers ruminating on the subject of eroticism and obsessive desire. The project was initiated by Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni who, at over 90 years of age, is too frail to direct an entire feature by himself, and so enlisted contributions from Wong Kar Wai of China and Steven Soderbergh of America. Unfortunately, the final results just serve to demonstrate how much Antonioni's once shining star has been eclipsed by those he inspired.
Wong Kar Wai's The Hand is easily the best of the three shorts, and probably the only one that could be classified as genuinely erotic. Chang Chen (the earthy rebel Dark Cloud in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) stars as a timid apprentice tailor in 1960's Hong Kong assigned to design the wardrobe for a well-to-do "kept woman" played by the radiant Gong Li. Upon their first meeting, a self-serving and cynical act of control on her part is nonetheless received as a moment of kindness that fosters a lifetime of devotion. As the years progress and the whore's fortunes decline, the tailor remains faithful to the muse who inspired his greatest work. At just over 40 minutes, Wong's film is a mini-masterpiece of repression and unrequited desire. Featuring almost no explicit nudity, the movie is incredibly sensual, almost tactile in its textures and moods. Wong seduces less with what he shows than with what he refuses to show. It's also a heartbreaking and emotional, multi-layered work about the complexities of love, art, dignity, and compassion.
Steven Soderbergh's Equilibrium (not to be confused with the cheesy sci-fi B-movie of the same title) is more of a lark, a silly riff on the futility of obsession. Robert Downey Jr. delivers one of those mumbly performances typical of his work since burning out on drugs. He stars as a 1955 Madison Avenue ad exec visiting his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) to interpret a recurring dream he's been having about a mystery woman. The shrink only feigns interest, and while his patient is turned away keeps himself preoccupied with his own peculiar fixation. The movie begins gloriously, as Soderbergh's gently swaying camera teases us with glimpses of the dream woman, then segues into a long talky section focused on word play and the banter between actors, and finally features an enigmatic and confusing ending perhaps meant as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Antonioni. The piece is not a work of art and will at best serve as a footnote in its director's career, but is amusing and entertaining for its 25-minute length.
Then we have Antonioni's The Dangerous Thread of Things, a sad reminder that the once great auteur is well past his prime. Although the director attempts to weave in his signature themes of alienation and portentous symbolism, and still has a talent for choreographing long tracking shots in which the movements of the actors seem to flirt with the camera, the movie is a pale shadow of his earlier works and plays more like a Jess Franco softcore cheapie. The three lead actors whose names are not worth remembering deliver terrible performances and are forced to speak some atrocious dialogue. The plot involves a man and his frequently-topless wife having marital difficulties, until the man sleeps with a buxom girl from a neighboring villa, after which point the two women get naked and frolic on the beach. It's all directed with utter solemnity and is meant to be terribly serious and meaningful, but is deadly dull and laughably pretentious. Though one of the two women is quite a looker, the explicit nudity and sex are the least erotic element of any of the three films in this collection. Antonioni should be ashamed to let his career go out with such a whimper.
As a total package, Eros is a mixed bag, but two out of the three shorts are genuinely worth seeking out even if the third, the impetus behind the project, should best be forgotten. With some expansion, the Wong segment could have made its own wonderful feature film.
The DVD from Mei Ah Entertainment is an all-region NTSC disc that will function in any American DVD player. The movie is available in either a plain-jane single-disc affair or a 2-disc Limited Edition that comes packaged with a handful of movie-themed postcards.
Picture quality is a little bit variable among the three segments, but on the whole is quite satisfying. All three parts are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. The Hand is very sharp and detailed, with no noticeable edge enhancement. Colors are strong though the black level is perhaps a little light. Equilibrium varies from the vibrant blue of the dream content to a flat black & white during the psychiatrist session. Both look good, but a slight bit of edge ringing is visible in one or two shots. The Dangerous Thread of Things has the blandest photography, mostly standard travelogue-type scenery of the Italian settings, which are pretty but dull. Edge enhancement artifacts rear their head the most here, yet are still not unbearable.
The movie's soundtrack is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. The DTS track has terrific fidelity. The Wong film has a rich musical presence and subtly enveloping surround ambience. The Soderbergh piece is mostly dialogue, all intelligible and recorded well. Antonioni attempts the most aggressive surround experimentation, featuring several songs whose lyrics flutter discretely across the rear soundstage. Although not officially credited as a Dolby-EX or DTS-ES mix, the track decodes well into a center back channel if 6.1 matrixing is applied (especially the last film).
The Wong segment is spoken entirely in Mandarin, while both the Soderbergh and Antonioni pieces were shot in English. The disc offers optional subtitles in English or Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified), however once selected they run for the entire movie. English-speaking viewers will have to manually turn the subtitles off after Wong's film. The English translation for that piece is very coherent with no distracting spelling or grammatical mistakes.
Disc 1 only contains a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer and a databank section with a text synopsis and cast & crew list (just a list, not bios).
Disc 2 of the Limited Edition holds three 10-minute featurettes that the packaging lumps together under the odd description "Eros – Feel 100%". All three almost entirely focus on the Wong film, which is only natural for a release meant for the Hong Kong market. Inspiration of Eros is an interview with Wong Kar Wai (in English) about the development of the project and his intentions. Gong Li is then interviewed (in Mandarin with optional English subtitles) for The Whole Life of a Woman in 40 Min. about working with Wong and her perceptions of the movie. Finally, star Chang Chen describes (again in Mandarin with subtitles) his developing relationship with the director in Wong Kar Wai – A Stranger to a Mentor.
Another trailer (this time a Japanese variant) is included on this disc, along with a 3-minute photo gallery montage.
No ROM supplements have been provided.
Even if not all of its parts work as well as intended, Eros is an interesting collection of short films worth owning for the Wong and Soderbergh entries alone. Recommended.
Eros (U.S. release)
Zhou Yu's Train