Taiwanese director Ming-Liang Tsai (Malaysia, 1957)
specialized in a minimalist style of
static camera, very long takes, laconic dialogue and no musical soundtrack.
Qing Shao Nian Nuo Zha/ Rebels of the Neon God (1993) is a delicate
dance between two main characters, an introverted psychotic virgin and
a cynical decadent criminal. The sparse dialogue does little to shine any
light on their stories. Their present, however, is sharply photographed by
their actions. On one hand a zombie-like existence and on the other one an
aimless moving between videogames and girls.
One of them has become obsessed with the other, whereas the latter doesn't
even know that the former exists.
Neither has a goal in life.
It is not that they don't have a past to talk about, they don't have a
On a rainy night two kids, Ah-tze/At and Ah-ping/Ap, enter a phone booth,
drill a hole in its coffer and steal all the coins.
Meanwhile, another kid, Hsiao-Kang/HK breaks the window of his own room to
kill an annoying cockroach and wounds himself, and then walks out indifferent
to the puzzlement of his parents.
The two thieves waste their loot on videogames, and HK sees them.
Ah-tze and Ah-ping ride around the city in their flashy motorcycles.
Then At returns to his filthy flat, always flooded because of poor drainage,
and masturbates after hearing his neighbor make love to a girl.
He actually just heard a one-night stand: the man leaves the girl a business
Hsiao-Kang wants to drop out of school, his scooter is towed, and luckily for
him his father is passing by and gives him a ride in his taxi. They make
plans to watch a movie together. Meanwhile, the girl, Ah Kuei, wakes up and
uses the bathroom. She leaves the apartment at the same time that At leaves
his. They take the elevator together. She doesn't even know where she is
and asks At for a ride. They take off on At's motorcycle.
Father and student are driving towards the movie theater when At's motorcycle
speeds in front of them. HK recognizes At as one of the kids who were at
the videogame arcade. At the traffic light HK's father honks at At, who
responds by breaking the side-view mirror of the taxi. HK's father loses
control of the car and hits another car. After the accident, the old man
doesn't want to watch the movies anymore and HK wanders around by himself.
HK's mother is equally useless for the kid: she is a religious fanatic who
performs traditional rites at the temple. At home she tells her husband that
HK is the reincarnation of a god, Norcha.
HK overhears them from the bathroom and later behaves like a demon. His mother
is frightened but his father realizes that he's just acting and gets mad at him.
During the night At and Ap ride their motorcycles to the place where the
girl works, in a skating rink. They invite her to movie and
agree to share her between them in the theater; but
first she wants to buy a red dress and they stare at her through a mirror.
After the movie they drink, they eat, they play games, they ride around in the
motorcycles, until the girl collapses. Then the boys take her to a
cheap hotel, typically used for sexual encounters.
The boys watch porno movies on tv while she's already asleep in the bed.
Instead of taking advantage of her, they leave and go play videogames as usual.
The girl wakes up in the morning alone in the hotel room and calls At: she
wants to see him again.
HK withdraws from school without telling his parents and keeps the refund money.
He buys a pellet gun, then goes to videogame arcade and
follows At, Ap and the girl.
HK keeps following them discreetly and sees when they break a lock to a
HK watches but never utters a word. It is hard to tell what he is thinking.
After work the is girl stood up by At: she waits in vain for him to come
and pick her up. He is at the arcade with his buddy Ap. When the
arcade closes, all the customers are showed out, but At and Ap sneak back in
from the back entrance, and steal the coin containers of the machines.
HK follows them hiding behind the machines and watches silently as they
carry out their crime.
When the two thieves leave, they restore the lock that they had broken and thus they inadvertently lock HK inside.
He has to sleep in the arcade until the security guard reopens the place in the morning.
His father looks for him at school and realizes that the kid ran away with the
Meanwhile HK is practicing how to use the pellet gun.
The girl at the skating rink phones an older man for blind date.
HK comes and hires boots to skate. He is now stalking her too.
At closing time At shows up to pick her up, but she walks away after telling
him that she already has a date.
Atse insists and eventually she leaves with him.
HK witnesses the scene and follows them on his motorcycle.
At takes the girl to a hotel room where they make love.
It is raining heavily. HK vandalizes At's motorcycle and then takes a room in
the same hotel after his father slams the door into his face.
After sex At leaves te girl alone again and goes back to play videogames.
She wakes up, doesn't find him, dresses up and leaves.
Meanwhile, HK is waking up in another room. He sees At walk to his motorcycle
and enjoys At's dismay at seeing how the bike has been vandalized. HK has signed
the sidewalk with the name "Norcha".
For the first time HK is jubilant. He then walks out and
innocently approaches Atse who is pushing the motorcycle in a busy street
offering to help but Atse rudely sends him away.
Ap comes to rescue At, and the pair visits
another arcade. They ask to talk to the boss and they offer him the coin
containers that they stole. Unfortunately for them, the owner of the other
arcade is there and recognizes them.
They are chased in the narrow alleys by the boys of the owner and
Ap is beaten badly. Later At come sback to pick him up.
He flags down a taxi and it happens to be HK's father, but the old man doesn't
seem to recognize him. At's apartment is flooding again
The girl comes looking for him.
At explains that he recognized the taxi driver and felt guilty about what he
HK visits a phone dating system .
He pays for it but then doesn't pick up the phone when the girls start calling.
Aiqing Wansui/ Vive l'Amour (1994) is a comedy of alienation
that turns into tragedy.
A delivery boy sees a key in the lock of a door and takes it.
Later, he comes back and uses the key to enter the apartment.
The apartment is furnished but obviously nobody lives there.
He takes a bath.
At a cafe another young man is drinking alone when a young woman
sits at a nearby table and starts drinking alone too.
He follows her to a movie theater and then on a shopping street.
He pretends to make a phone call and she waits in front of the phone
Meanwhile, the boy alone in a small room of the apartment decides to slit his wrists,
although it takes him forever to find the strength to do it.
Just then the couple, without speaking, enters the apartment, walks to
the main bedroom and starts undressing.
The boy wakes up and eavesdrops on them, holding his bleeding arm.
Clearly he has survived his suicide attempt.
Nobody has said a word.
The following day she's dressed up for office work. She hangs real-estate
signs around town. We understand that the apartment is one of the
properties that she is trying to sell, and that's why nobody lives there.
The suicidal boy enters a cafe all dressed up too. While having breakfast,
he prepares his brochures: he sells funeral urns.
She forgot the keys in the apartment and returns to the apartment but doesn't
find them. She almost discovers the boy, who has become a squatter.
Her one-night stand returns to the apartment too: he stole the key from her.
He unloads his luggage in the master bedroom.
While he is taking a bath, the suicidal boy returns home with a watermelon.
It takes a while for the boy to realize that someone else is in the house.
He hides in his small room until the other man realizes that someone is
hiding there. They confront each other: both have stolen the keys, both
have no place to stay, both decided to live temporarily
in that apartment for sale.
The other man is a street vendor who sells clothes on the sidewalk at
the night market.
She returns to the apartment one more time and her one-night stand has to
hide under the bed. Luckily she falls asleep and he can squeeze out.
The other man is doing the same.
The two men finally introduce each other: Hsiao-kang is the salesman and
Ah-jung is the street vendor.
The woman lives alone in a small ugly apartment.
The shy Hsiao-kang turns out to be a homosexual: alone at home, he dresses
like a woman, including high-heel shoes, and then masturbates.
The woman wakes up early to deliver brochures. Then she takes a casual
stroll at the night market and finds Ah-jung selling his ware.
They go home together and have sex on the usual bed... but
Hsiao-kang is hiding under the bed and starts masturbating.
After she leaves, Ah-jung remains asleep in bed.
Hsiao-kang lies down next to him and kisses him.
The woman cannot start her car. She starts walking and keeps walking for
a long time. She finally sits on a bench and starts crying.
He Liu/ The River (1996)
Dong/ The Hole (1998) is a Kafka-esque apologue with a minimal plot
and a hole that connects the private lives of two lonely inhabitants of an
To add to the surreal atmosphere, the tale is rudely interrupted several times
by cheesy musical fantasy skits (set in the same dilapidated tenement)
transported straight out of a 1950s night-club, whether
calypso or rock'n'roll. It is hard to find out how these musical intermezzos
fit with the laconic hyper-realist tale.
(These are very lonely, empty lives. Do the musical skits evoke shows for
desperately lonely people?)
But perhaps this is a subtle allegory of a society that is rapidly disintegrating,
the virulent disease being alienation, a world in which
individuals live lonely pointless lives and only an accident followed by
morbid curiosity can lead two of them to create a bond.
The radio accounces that people are being evacuated to fight a deadly epidemics.
It is raining hard outside a mostly empty tenement.
A plumber shows up while "The Man Upstars" is napping on a couch and asks to
check his plumbing because there's a leak downstairs. The plumber makes a hole
in the living room's floor and leaves
Meanwhile, "The Woman Downstairs" comes home and finds her place flooded by
the leak. She calmly proceeds to clean up as if this happened all the time.
She listens to the broadcast that another person has died of the disease
but doesn't seem worried. Then suddenly she notices the hole in her ceiling.
The man upstairs is sick. He can hardly walk. He tries to walk outside but
has to return to his apartment and, of all places, decides to throw up in
the hole. The vomit flows down into the woman's apartment.
Finally the man walks outside. There is nobody around. He opens a grocery shop.
All the others are closed. There is still nobody around, no customers at all.
He feeds his cat. Finally a customer shows up but he wants something that has
long been discontinued. The man upstairs doesn't seem to panic that there is
no business. At the end of an uneventful day the man upstairs shuts his store
ang walks home.
It is still raining heavily. The woman downstairs has left a note
to his door.
In the evening the man upstairs starts peeking through the hole at the
woman downstairs, who has ammassed a huge amount of toilet paper.
She realizes she is being spied and sprays something that smells horrible
to the ceiling. She then hears a couple argue and tries to figure out where
they are in the tenement.
The following day she walks to the man's store (it is still raining) and tells
him that the plumber is scheduled to come and fix the problem. But the plumber
calls to cancel the appointment, just when she has found another leak coming
from upstairs, this time right on top of her toilet.
A child rides his bicycle in a corridor of the tenement. The man upstairs
finds a drunk man crawling in the garbage near his shop and thinks he must
be drunk. At home the woman witnesses how five men carry away a man who
is gesturing hysterically. She hears a broadcast explaining that the victims
of the virus start crawling like cockroaches. On his way home the man upstairs
meets the workers who are disinfecting the building while the woman downstairs,
panicking, is spraying her whole place with insecticide. She uses so much of
it that the man upstairs cannot breathe.
She tapes the hole. tears down the wallpaper that is peeling off anyway
lies down by her piles of toilet paper and talks on the phone with a man.
She feels erotic pleasure in rubbing the toilet paper on her skin.
It is still raining heavily.
They cook and eat in their respective apartments.
He pours water in the hole until the tape breaks down.
Someone rings the bell repeatedly but he doesn't open the door (could it be
the plumber?) He finally decides to clean up the mess left by the plumber but
then he uses a hammer to make the hole bigger.
He can now even swing a leg down the hole. At night she wakes up because
she can't breathe well, and she starts crying, either because she feels
she is getting sick with the deadly disease or because she is exhausted of
having the house flooded all the time by the various leaks. Fact is she
starts crawling like a cockroach into a dark corner of the room under the
pile of toilet paper...
The sound of the rain is still the only soundtrack.
The man upstairs grabs the hammer again and tries to make the hole bigger, but
then he too starts crying, possibly realizing how pointless his life is or
because he doesn't see her anymore and senses that she got the disease.
She comes back to life and crawls out of her hiding place.
He hands her through the hole a glass of water.
Then he offers her his entire arm. She grabs it and he pulls her upstairs
through the hole.
In the last musical scene the two are dressed formally and dance a slow romantic dance.
Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) is an incredibly subtle love story. It involves
the two people who man an old theater. The focus of the plot actually revolves
around the audience (one young man in particular) and eventually the theater
becomes the real protagonist. But this is part of Tsai's weird perspectives:
he shoots scenes from strange angles, and he tells his love story also from
a strange angle.
Most of the film is not spoken, the only words coming from an old movie that
is being shown in the theater.
An old historical film (that has the same title, "Goodbye Dragon Inn")
is being shown in a large theater. We see the audience from the backstage,
through a couple of drapes that are moved by the wind. Outside it is raining.
There seems to be nobody in the streets. A Young Japanese man walks into the
theater, perhaps to take shelter from the rain. A crippled young woman is
washing something in the restrooms while he sneaks into the theater.
The theater is almost empty. The crippled woman has warmed up her food,
which is a cake. She takes half of it and, walking slowly, brings it to
the projectionist. He is not there. She leaves the foot and walks slowly
back to the ticket window.
THe Japanese boy changes seat because someone is sticking his feet next to
his face. He doesn't seem completely sane: he tries to draw the attention
of one of the spectators by leaning towards him. The crippled woman is
checking the women's restrooms. The Japanese boy enters the men's restrooms
and takes the john next to another man. A third man walks in and also takes
a john next to them. Nobody moves, but clearly nobody is peeing either.
The crippled woman keeps walking slowly around the theater, and up and down
the stairs. Maybe she's looking for the projectionist? The Japanese boy
meets another young man in a hallway and asks for a match. The other man
tells him that the theater is haunted. He replies by shouting that he is
Japanese (those are the first and only words uttered by the characters of
the film). The Japanese boy walks back into the theater. He can hear a
sexy girl eating two rows from him. She drops a shoe and has to look for
it in the dark. Then she moves closer to the Japanese boy, who seems
scared about the noise behind him. The theater looks empty when viewed from
the top, but reveals one or two spectators when the camera moves through
the rows. The movie ends. The lights go on. Now that is empty and lit,
the theater looks much bigger. The crippled woman walks in and cleans the
floor. When she's done, only silence remains. The spectators are leaving
the theater. One of them meets his old teacher. It is still raining.
The projectionist rewinds the tape: he has not touched the half cake that
the crippled woman left him. The crippled woman is checking
the restrooms. Then she walks back to the ticket window, packs her stuff,
shuts the lights and walks outside. But then she waits, in front of the
sign that says "closed" (so we learn that the theater will be closed for
a while). The projectionist locks the theater's entrance, and then walks
outside. The crippled woman has waited, and watches him leave in the rain.
She walks home alone.
At the end we understand that she is in love with the projectionist and
that was the last chance to talk to him. She gave him half of her cake
as a gesture of love. She looked for him in the building, but never found him.
Whether he knows or not of her love, we don't know. The spectators, the
weird Japanese boy, the movie shown on the screen were simply signs about
the lives that the two have been living for who knows how long.
Ni Na Bian Ji Dian/ What Time Is It There? (2001) is a triple tragedy
of loneliness. The three characters live pointless lives and don't even
search for meaning anymore (not to mention the dead man himself, who dies
alone). When they try to find meaning (or at least
emotional rescue) in sex, all three are disappointed.
The real protagonist is the passage of time.
Watches and clocks become a metaphor for their existence: they exist where
their watches and clocks are. So the kid starts living as if he were in Paris,
and the girl keeps living as if she was still home, and the mom adjusts her
routine to the time marked by the clock.
The director emphasizes ordinary life by showing even the most intimate
moments (for example, by showing people while they urinate, defecate,
vomit and masturbate) and by introducing elements of humor (like the fat
gay kid or little incidents of domestic life).
An old man alone at home calls his son. Nobody replies. He lights a cigarette.
The son, Hsiao, brings the ashes of his dead father to the Buddhist temple,
where the last ritual is performed (clearly the father has died and this is the
son he was calling).
At home he gets scared when he hears noises: the priest has told them that
the old man has so many days to return as a ghost.
Hsiao urinates in a plastic bag rather than walk to the bathroom.
During the day he sells watches on the sidewalk. One day a girl, Shiang,
stops to to look at his merchandise, but she mainly likes his watch.
She insists she needs that type of watch (that displays the time in two
different cities) by the following morning because she is leaving for Paris.
He mumbles something about the watch being a personal thing, that it would
bring bad luck if he sold it. She replies that she's a Christian, and doesn't
believe in those superstitions. Finally he accepts to sell it and she gives
him a cake to thank him.
That night he urinates in a plastic bottle.
His mother looks every morning for signs that the dead came back. Obviously
she was very attached and misses the dead.
She reproaches the son for not being as diligent. No life must be killed,
because anything, even a cockroach, could be father's reincarnation.
In the middle of the night he makes a phone call to find out what time it is
in Paris: that's where his watch is.
When he cannot catch sleep, he watches Truffaut's 400 Blows, a French
His mother notices that the clock has changed time (Hsiao has set it to French
time) and, thinking it's a sign from the old man, she readjusts their schedule
to the time displayed by the clock.
In Paris the girl cannot sleep. She hears footsteps from the room upstairs.
(Is the noisy neighbor the ghost of the dead man that followed Hsiao's watch
to Paris?) She is a tourist in Paris but she doesn't seem to have anything to
do. In the subwsy she doesn't know where to go.
Meanwhile in Taipei, Hsiao enters a clock shop and sets all the clocks
to Paris time. A fat kid sees him and follows him to a movie theater. Hsiao
takes down the clock of the theater. The fat kid steals the clock from him
and walks into the restrooms. Hsiao follows him and the fat kid comes up
of a stall half naked with the clock covering his penis.
Hsiao's mother is getting more and more worried about father coming back.
She sets the dinner table for three, the third one being the dead man,
and serves food to all three. And she does so at odd hours, because she now
follows the clock that Hsiao set to French time.
In Paris the girl is still hearing the noisy neighbor upstairs and cannot
fall asleep. She has nothing to do in Paris. It almost feels like she went
to Paris only because it's the excuse she came up with to get the watch
and then she felt she had to live up to it.
Hsiao's mother is becoming neurotic. She cries in front of the dead man's
favorite fish. Hsiao cries too, in bed, and watches 400 Blows.
Another time his mother turns out all the lights in the house because she
thinks that father is afraid of light.
Shiang meets a man in a cemetery, JeanPierre (it is actually the protagonist
of Truffaut's 400 Blows).
Hsiao is becoming more and more paranoid: he sets the clock of a high-rise
building to French time by using a pole from the roof. The
traffic is reflected in the windows of building next to clock.
Shiang gets sick and throws up. At a restaurant she meets another Chinese girl,
who is kind to her and invites her to stay at her place. Shiang drags her
suitcase to the girl's apartment.
All three characters now turn to sexual experiences.
The mother wears a sexy dress and prepares a
candlelight dinner with her dead husband.
Hsiao eats and drinks in his car and falls asleep, while a
prostitute knocks at the window.
Shiang and the other girl pretend to be asleep but they are both awake and
spying each other in bed.
The mother masturbates.
Hsiao has sex to the prostitute.
Shiang kisses the other Chinese girl but the girl turns away.
The prostitute steals Hsiao's watches.
Therefore the sex ends disappointingly for all three: Hsiao is robbed, his
mother fails to evoke the ghost, Shiang is rejected. Now they are
even more unhappy.
Shiang wonders around Paris dragging her suitcase. No matter how lonely
and unhappy, she doesn't seem to be able to go back home.
She falls asleep on a bench by a pond.
Kids stole her suitcase and throw it in the pond.
A Chinese man rescues it: it's Hsiao's dead father, who then lights a
cigarette and walks away. He has come back, just in the wrong city, and
apparently all because of the watch.
(Why is the watch related to the dead man, to the point of making him appear
where the watch goes, is not explained. Why the dead
man rescues the girl's suitcase, given that he never met her in his life,
is not explained either. It's almost as if the dead man had reincarnated
in the watch itself, and therefore been with the girl all the time that
his widow was expecting him to return home. By rescuing her suitcase maybe
he helped her return home and therefore return "him" to his home town and to
Tian Bian yi Duo Yun/ The Wayward Cloud (2005)
stages again Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-chyi, the characters of What Time Is It There?.
The musical interludes are funnier than ever, and perhaps constitute the real
essence of the film.
The two characters get increasingly close but
this time, unbeknownst to her, Hsiao-Kang is a pornographic film actor.
The megalopolis, crippled by a water shortage, is asking its citizens to
drink watermelon juice instead of water, and therefore the watermelon acquires
a fetishistic dimension.
There is a strong satirical tone for most of the film, but it is not clear
what Tsai is being satirical of: city life? sexual promiscuity?
The peak of the film is the lengthy harrowing sex scene before the final musical
Hsiao-kang is being filmed by the the crew while having sex with a comatose
porn star, but then, discovered by Shiang-chyi,
forces oral sex into Shiang-chyi's mouth and she simply cries.
This could be the peak of Tsai's anti-romanticism in sex.
Hei Yan Quan/ I Don't Want to Sleep Alone/ Eyes Circled in Black (2006),
set in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur,
which is here depicted as a racial melting pot in which poor immigrants
are confined to awful ghettos.
By the end of the film, it has become the setting for an apocalyptic dystopia
whose inhabitants are condemned to die by pollution.
a mute Chinese tramp becomes the object of desire of three people: a kind man
from a faraway country,
a young frustrated slave girl, her older frustrated master (also a woman).
The scruffy mute seems to emanate animal sensuality and eventually leads to a
menage a quatre, and most of the film is about
how erotic impulses mingle with a collapsing civilization.
The sex scenes are wildly implausible, lending credence to the hypothesis
that the whole story might be dreamed by the comatose boy
(played by the same actor who plays the mute Chinese tramp).
In a busy alley a young Chinese woman is standing in front of a food stall,
and a Chinese man is nearby: these two casual passer-bys are actually
the protagonists of the film.
An eloquent man is scamming a group of immigrants from Bangladesh, telling them that
he can divine winning numbers and collecting money from them.
His gang searches in vain a mute Chinese man for money and then presumably
(not shown) beats him up and dumps him in the street.
Then at night six of the Bangladeshi workers take a mattress in the dumpster
of a back alley and carry it home through busy streets.
They pass a man who faints on the sidewalk and carry him with the mattress.
They reach their tenement and noisily carry the mattress upstairs, with
the fainted man inside. Some of the men complain that they might be fined
by the Chinese landlady.
In the same decrepit tenement a comatose man is nursed by a young Chinese
woman, Chyi, who doesn't belong with the crowd of poor immigrants.
Construction workers are still at work to finish the tenement, and this new
section has a big hole full of water in the middle.
One of the Bangladeshi migrants, the generous Rawang, takes care of the
Chinese tramp, Hsiao Kang, who doesn't say a word, as if he were his own
brother: takes him to the bathroom, cooks for him, feeds him, washes his body,
Meanwhile, the Chinese girl, wearing white gloves, is carefully washing the
face of her paralyzed patient (the camera is fixed on the bald man's
expressionless face with wide open eyes).
The two caregivers are clearly juxtaposed by the film: Rawang from Bangladesh
caring for a mute Chinese man, and Chyi the Chinese girl caring for a
paralyzed Chinese boy.
Architecture is prominent: the camera
lingers repeatedly on the unconstructed part of the tenement, indulging in
broken concrete, stagnating water and deserted stairwells.
Both the original title and the mattress are subtle references to a political
scandal that rocked Malaysia a few years earlier.
At this point we do know Rawang's story and the story of his "patient", but
not the story (nor the name) of the girl and of her patient.
Now we are introduced to Chyi's boss, an older woman as they eat together
at a restaurant. Later the older woman is rubbing some cream on the
paralyzed boy's belly, getting closer and closer to the pubic hair.
Meanwhile, Hsiao-kang has fully recovered and one day he meets
Chyi in the stairwell. She is carrying a tray of food presumably to her boss
and he stops her and takes some of the food. She is startled by his
aggressive rude manners but doesn't object. He gives her
a luminescent flower bouquet.
Later Chyi is doing her job, rubbing more creams on the boy's body and changing
sheets, when the boy's brother comes with a group of strangers interested in
buying the place. His mother gets upset that this son of hers is indifferent
to the paralyzed son, and then vents her anger on the poor girl slapping her
instead of thanking her for her devout services.
The older lady runs a restaurant.
Later, in a narrow dark alley, she meets Hsiao-kang, who, as a foreigner with
no passport, has just been refused a room in a hotel and was hanging outside
her restaurant. She approaches him,
unzips his pants and guides his hand to masturbate her.
Back home she has Chyi rub creams on her own body. This gives her an idea:
she drags Chyi to her boy's bed and guides the hand to masturbate her son.
Chyi's condition seems to be one of sordid slavery.
So far Chyi has not said a word in the entire film.
Meanwhile, we have seen the mattress carried out again, presumably because
it is not needed for Hsiao-kang anymore.
Rawang dreams of fishing in the big hole full of water of the unfinished
tenement. A butterfly stop briefly on his shoulder. A man appears behind him
and comes to sit next to him.
The radio news station blames a smoky haze that is shrouding the city
on the fires lit illegally by these migrant workers.
Gas masks are being handed out to the public.
The haze is so bad that Chyi's boss keeps the doors of her restaurant closed.
We see that Chyi is a waitress there, wearing a protective mask.
Nonetheless, the poorest people stand outside in the smoke to watch a
store's tv set. They are wearing plastic bags instead of protective masks.
Chyi meets Hsiao-kang in front of one such store window and they silently
walk away together, climb the stairs and enter Chyi's garret room.
They don't realize that Chyi's boss is following her.
The lovers can't even kiss because they start coughing the moment they take
their masks off.
The older woman instead, after eavesdropping, slips into sewage that has invaded the stairwell.
Chyi and Hsiao-kang carry the mattress in the smoky street back to
the smoky building and up the smoky stairs.
While Hsiao-kang is asleep, suddenly
Rawang, wearing a plastic bag as a protective mask, appears and threatens
to slit his throat with an opened tin can, presumably in an act of jealousy.
But instead he starts crying, just like a betrayed lover, while Hsiao-kang
tenderly caresses his face. Not a word is exchanged.
When Chyi returns to the bed, Hsiao-kang is fast asleep.
She turns on the luminiscent flowers and takes off her gas mask.
Then she lies next to Hsiao-kang. We see the face of the paralyzed boy,
eyes wide open staring at the ceiling, and then the screen goes black,
and then the mattress comes floating down like a magic carpet with three
people crouched on it (Chyi, Hsiao-kang and Rawang);
possibly implying that he is the one imagining the scene... and the whole film.
This was the last significant film that Tsai made. The two that followed
are vastly inferior.
Visage/ Face (2009), another film with musical interludes, is a
tribute to the French "nouvelle vague". The story has Tsai's old character
Hsiao-Kang as a Taiwanese director who travels to Paris to shoot a film
and has to contend with the idiotic actress chosen by the producer while
at the same time his ailing mother is dying.
Jiaoyou/ Stray Dogs (2013), his first digital production,
relies on annoyingly fragmented vignettes and excessively static scenes.
Tha story revolves around two nameless characters, and we are not even sure
that they are married.
Very few words are exchanged throughout the film.
By his standards this is a very mediocre work.
The first, fragmented part is made of brief vignettes:
a woman combing and staring at two children sleeping in the bed behind her;
the two children playing in a forest;
a man rowing away in a boat from a lush swamp;
two men, wrapped in plastic bags, holding real estate placards
in the middle of city traffic;
children playing at the beach followed by a man (presumably one of the placard
a child watching a spectacled man eat in a cheap cafeteria;
the children in the supermarket where their mother works;
One of the human placards, who is shivering in the cold weather,
suddenly tearful, begins reciting and singing an ancient poem.
Later he eats with his children and teaches them good manners.
They brush their teeth in public restrooms.
They live in a shack outside town (the only place where we don't hear the noise
The woman feeds stray dogs while the man and the children are fast asleep in the
shack, then she stares forever at a poster painted on a wall before
crouching and peeing.
After a lengthy scene of the man eating his lunch, there is
a shot at the supermarket with the camera looking up at the people from
inside a freezer. The man's little girl is staring at the contents of the
The woman who works there brings the girl to the restrooms and washes her.
the woman, wearing a blue dress and holding a flashlight, climbs a tree
to check another place (but we are not showed what is inside).
During the day the man walks to an empty apartment building to explore inside.
The film suddenly shifts gear. Now the father is a drunkard and
one rainy night takes money from his son and tells him to take care of his
sister. Then he walks to a bar and drinks alone.
They now live in an apartment. When he gets home, his children are not around
but he finds the painted doll that they created out of a cabbage. In a fit of
fury he smothers it, dismembers it and eats it. Finally, he starts crying
and hugs the remains of the cabbage.
(This may be the prequel to the first part of the film, possibly describing
how he ended up being a placard man squatting in a shack, separated from
On a very rainy night he tries to take the children away in the boat, but the
woman arrives in time to rescue the children, and he remains alone under the
raining shouting their names from the boat while the woman hugs the children.
(These all feel like flashbacks to their life before they became squatters).
Next we see the woman and the children singing "happy birthday" to the father
in the apartment. Next he is lying naked in the bathtub and the children
are doing their homework assisted by the mother, all of them well-dressed.
The girl complains that the apartment looks ugly now, and the mother explains
that it is because the rain leaked inside (but it sounds like the girl has
never lived in the shack of the first half).
The man and the woman walk to the derelict place where she was shown feeding
stray dogs, and they feed the stray dogs. Then they walk into the abandoned
building and she stares for a long time at something (we know there is
a poster painted on that wall) while he stands behind her.
Possibly, this was their early life, before his alcoholism ruined him
and he became a squatter. He drinks a sip from his bottle and a tear rolls
down her cheek (another endless scene).
He finally leans on her and we see that she has been staring at the huge poster
painted on the wall. She disengages from his embrace and leaves him alone.
For a few minutes we hear his breathing, then he too leaves.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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