Alejandro Valadez’s review published on Letterboxd:
So, today (yesterday? doesn't matter) I had the enormous pleasure of attending, albeit online, a master class with Tsai Ming-liang himself, as part of the activities for the retrospective dedicated to his ouvre held by this year's FICUNAM. Right at the beginning, before the class even started, the moderator made the remark that she found somewhat poetic the fact that the conversation was happening at the same time yet at different times, as the live stream began at 7:00 pm in Mexico while in Taipei it was early morning of the next day. I found that suitably poetic too, because I coincidentally watched What Time Is It There? the same day, with someone who lives in a different time zone than mine (though we're on par right now). You get the idea why it was something special.
I tell you this because I think it connects in a way to what Tsai wanted to say in this film; time is just as abstract as it is definite, and that it sets us apart just as it brings us together. Despite this, the film is more concerned with loss and grief, or should I say due do it, as what are those if not time and its devastating effects? The three main characters are trying to deal with tremendous loss: Hsiao-kang and his mother with the death of their family's patriarch, and Shiang-chyi perhaps with leaving the familiar comfort of her own country. Hsiao-kang and his mother, in particular, seem to be the ones adamant in looking for some kind of resolution or closure; Hsiao-kang by trying to spiritually connect not only with Shang-chyi by desperately changing his time zone to hers, but also to his father, whom now only physically exists in the watch he reluctantly sold her; and his mother, in contrast, by patiently waiting in denial for her husband's return in whatever form it may be, with Shang-chyi's Parisian adventure into isolation perhaps mirroring their inability to find answers.
Living at the same time yet at different times; a paradox that rules time's own importance weighless, and its constraints ineffective. It's all the same whether it's Taiwan, France or Mexico, our physical world or the afterlife—time made us all ghosts.