Monday, October 15, 2007

The Cinema of Tsai Ming-liang

Back in the summer, I wrapped up a spotlight on Taiwan with an extended look at Tsai Ming-liang's films. At that point, I was missing two features & one short film from his Lee Kang-sheng collaborations -- The Hole (1998), I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006) and his debut short feature Youngsters (1991). I was lucky enough to find his 1998 feature (The Hole) recently.

Lee Kang-sheng has played the same lead character of Hsiao-kang in all Tsai Ming-liang films I have seen (Goodbye, Dragon Inn was an exception but Lee Kang-sheng only had a small cameo) . So when I started watching the The Hole I believed I was watching the same character Hsiao-kang. But one crucial scene changed my mind. Tien Miao plays Hsiao-kang's father in all movies but when he appears in The Hole, Lee Kang-sheng's character does not recognize him. Tien Miao has only a few minutes screen time before he disappears. In that sense both The Hole & Goodbye, Dragon Inn stand apart from the other Tsai Ming-liang & Lee Kang-sheng films because the same character is not examined.

The Hole (1998): Rating 8/10

On the eve of the year 2000, Taiwan is getting pounded by heavy rainfall. Most apartments are suffering from leaky ceilings. A plumber comes to a man's (Lee Kang-sheng who is credited in the movie as just "the man upstairs") apartment to check for leaks. But the plumber makes a big hole in the man's living room.

One night, the man from upstairs returns home terribly drunk. After he stumbles in his apartment, he throws up over the hole.

The results of his drunken exploits find their way to the apartment below. Needless to say, the woman living downstairs is not amused. "The woman downstairs" is played by Kuei-Mei Yang, another familiar face found in Tsai Ming-liang films.

Both the man upstairs and woman downstairs are lonely. Eventually, the two find a common bond with each other. The hole which initially is cause of dispute between the two, ends up being a salvation for both.

Musical numbers:

This is the first Tsai Ming-liang film where musical numbers make an appearance. Such musical dances showed up in The Wayward Cloud as well but they got a start here. The numbers provide some humour and respite away from the bleakness of the character's situations. The dance songs are shown from the woman's perspective as her feelings are mirrored in the song lyrics.


At VIFF, I caught the Tsai Ming-liang produced & Lee Kang-sheng directed film Help Me Eros. Even though the character (Ah Jie) played by Lee Kang-sheng is different, one can still find some similarities with the one he portrayed in all the other Tsai Ming-liang movies. Loneliness is the one trait that stands out. No matter which movie Lee Kang-sheng is found in, his character is always lonely and constantly looking for a companion. In all the films, his character strives to establish a bond with another person and tries to maintain that relationship.

In Help Me Eros, his character of Ah Jie finds a connection with someone on the internet. That virtual communication helps him express some of his pent up inner feelings. On the other hand, he is able to satisfy his sexual urges with a trio of women. But despite these two avenues of internet and sex orgies, Ah Jie's loner personality prevails and alienates the women who want to reach out to him.

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