The trouble with The Hole is that there just isn’t enough there. The film itself is very good, well crafted, plays with the theme of loneliness and human connection in a great, unique way, but it’s just lacking. I think what it comes down to is a sense of development in the characters. As it stands, The Hole would have made for a brilliant short subject, but as a 90 minute feature it doesn’t do enough to justify its length.
The Hole is set in Taiwan, ever so slightly in the future (December 1999!), and in world where a viral epidemic has forced the entire population to evacuate into quarantine zones. But there are a few people who decide to stay home, those are our main characters. Two people, a man and a woman, living in an apartment building that’s nearly devoid of life. It’s an incredibly lonely existence, and Tsai renders it with gritty greys and the sound of constant downpour outside.
As the film opens, a plumber comes in to check on one of the pipes in the man’s floor. He apparently discovers a problem and digs up the concrete floor, creating a hole looking down into the woman’s apartment. There is some tension created by the hole. The man occasionally pours things down it; the woman asks him to get it fixed. That’s as far as the drama and the plot go. The rest of the film is spent watching these two lonely people carrying on with their lonely lives in a lonely environment, hardly ever speaking.
The ending of the film provides a predictable, but very touching moment of catharsis. It isn’t quite enough, though. The ending is quit simple in theme and there isn’t much actual complexity to the main narrative for that theme to play off of. It’s all quite one-note. As I said, this would work much better as a short film.
Oh, but I am forgetting one thing! The musical numbers. Yes, that’s right, the musical numbers. The Hole is also a musical. The musical numbers actually do make the film more interesting. Between certain sections of the film, Tsai inserts these musical interludes, with the woman singing very American 40s-inspired tunes. The songs are actually pretty fun to listen to, and they do a really good job of framing the film, adding a greater sense of meaning for the characters.
Alas, the musical numbers can’t quite save it. The Hole is a good film, well made, with a great sense of theme, and even some depth. That doesn’t change the fact that it felt somewhat hollow, undone not by anything bad, but by length. For a film that’s only 90 minutes, it’s weird that it could still stand to lose about an hour.