26 May 2010

Tsai Ming-liang.

Tsai Ming-liang's first movie, Rebels of the Neon God, is a vision of urban torpor in landscapes of modern decay. The title rings science fiction, a story told inside a city, in a period following electrification. The film's characters reject the dominant culture, roam the city on motorcycles, spend long hours in lamp-soaked alleys and electronic bars, and dream of escape from the machine, escape from the city. They're rebels to an idealized new world which operates on structures of idolatry and ritualization. This is close to what the movie is. Rebels of the Neon God is sci-fi's living moment.

Ming-liang captures the nightmarish surrealism of fantasy objects turned real. His symbols accumulate meaning through his filmography: e.g. watermelon, water, lonely hearts, voyeurism. He focuses a giant and curious magnifying glass on people trapped in lifestyles of strictured loneliness.

 Vive L'Amour and What Time is It There feature protagonists who are street hawkers. The job suggests proclivities toward marginal compromise and ambiguous effort; it's potentially autonomous but economically and emotionally unrewarding, and ultimately depends on social participation. It's a job for the lonely rebel. In What Time is it There, the man hawks watches, bringing to the foreground motifs about time and existence. In Vive L'Amour, it's non-specific, goods on a blanket. This hawker haunts an unrented apartment, harmlessly observing the intersecting lives of a female real estate agent and her lover. The morality of voyeurism isn't discussed. This and other narrative ellipses suggest total freedom from judgement. The value of characters intersecting in Vive L'Amour isn't stressed, and there isn't a denouement that romances criss-crossing lives.

Ming-liang's movies reject mechanisms of falsification.

The Hole is about a very singular connection, requiring matters of fate and chance, wonder and spectacle. There is a hole on the floor of a woman's apartment, and through this whole she forms a small daydream romance with the man underneath her. The film includes musical sequences in fluorescent drenched concrete hallways, interludes of beautiful women and men in retro formals; vibrantly, magically choreographed dances. Ming-liang seems ready to concede there is love.

Four years later, in What Time is it There, a vague romantic tragedy occurs over an expanse of land, in separate cities in different countries. A woman traveling from Taipei to Paris wants to buy the personal watch of a watch salesman. At first he refuses. She calls him and directly insists. They are only together to discuss the watch, but when she leaves he obsessively changes Taipei clocks to Paris time. One morning the woman leaves the bed of a lover and panics, not knowing for a moment where the watch is. The intensity of the connection isn't forced into dissection, and the viewer is allowed to decide the story's scope and density.

Ming-liang's lack of dialogue driven story is sometimes called intolerable or inadequate by members of the film community who believe dialogue drives a story and generates participation and entertainment. Goodbye, Dragon Inn quietly grieves our lost faith in movies. The film takes place in one of cinema's dying churches, and a few protagonists haunt it, as the apartment in Vive L'Amour. Ming-liang's films often express implicit compassion for lonely onlookers, and Dragon Inn is a multi-layered poem on the dimensions of this loneliness. It has strong links with the writer/director's central theme: emotional isolation.

In The Hole, the characters suffer from an overabundance of water. There is constant rain and water leakage. This overabundance fosters both disconnect and association - the characters could do without so much water, but by simply being so prevalent, the water begins to take on unintentional meaning. This surreal metaphor is upped in The Wayward Cloud, wherein the characters are ensnared by a surprisingly prosperous year for watermelon. Watermelon juice becomes cheaper than water, and everyone has plenty of watermelons to eat and make into juice and place on head and fetishise. Which is kind of sick, to fetishise watermelons, and The River is about strange sickness overtaking the body.

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