I haven’t watched a narrative (non-Walker) Tsai movie in a while, and I forget that they don’t exactly have stories that make any proper sense. For some reason I was in the mood to watch walker Lee Kang-sheng do nothing much in front of a static camera for many hours, so I double-featured this with Stray Dogs.
Lee is a hapless sidewalk watch salesman who has just lost his father (the father shows up in a prologue before we know who he is). Lee lives with his mom (Yi-Ching Lu) who is taking the father’s death hard. He sells a watch (his own) to Chen Shiang-chyi on her way to Paris, then the movie starts following the two of them separately.
Lee watches a film (Dragon Inn?) with uninvited friend:
Lee watches Leaud:
Chen meets Leaud:
She doesn’t have much story to speak of, hangs around Paris looking lonely, bumps into Jean-Pierre Leaud and gets his phone number in a creepy-hilarious scene, gets sick in a restaurant and goes home with a woman (Cecilia Yip).
Meanwhile in Taiwan (New Taipei City, I think, before it was called that), Lee watches The 400 Blows and becomes obsessed with changing every clock he sees to Paris time, and his mom thinks the changed clocks are signs from her dead husband, starts taping up the windows to conform to “his time”. It doesn’t seem to end well. His case of watches gets stolen, and in Paris, Chen’s suitcase gets stolen and thrown in the lake… then fished out by Lee’s dead father.
This played Cannes the year of Millennium Mambo, Va Savoir, I’m Going Home, Mulholland Dr., In Praise of Love, Kandahar and The Piano Teacher – a year of puzzling films by great directors.
The Skywalk Is Gone (2002)
A crazy scene in a movie theater and its restroom in What Time Is It There prefigures Goodbye Dragon Inn. This short, made as an epilogue to What Time Is It There, sets up The Wayward Cloud.
Chen has returned to Taiwan, is looking for Lee but she’s confused that the skywalk is gone, replaced by an underpass, where they pass while Lee’s on his way to a porn audition.
Ed Gonzalez calls Lee and his mom “victims of the mundane and the repetitive”.
“It all comes back to the issue of time, which Tsai views as an immutable burden that people nonetheless seek to control.”
Chen with a walkin’ monk:
Chen just missing Lee:
I enjoy putting characters in environments where it seems like they have no relationships with others because I want to think about what kind of distance we should keep between each other. I also like to put people in situations where they do not have love, because I want to know how much love we need, and what kind of relationships we want.
According to Senses of Cinema, Lee and his movie-parents appeared in those same roles in Rebels of the Neon God and The River.