In reviews of What Time Is It There, critics praise the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. And sure, it looked good on DVD, but watching Stray Dogs in HD made a massive difference. When your movie involves people standing in the middle distance in a room, it helps to be able to see the person, and the room.

A movie about people with shitty jobs trying to hold their lives together, I suppose. Lee has two kids, stands on corners in the miserable wind and rain holding up an advertisement. And there’s a woman who works at a grocery store, seems efficient at her job, then goes home to a derelict building where her hobbies are feeding wild dogs and staring at a wall mural.

I assumed the woman was played by Chen Shiang-chyi from What Time Is It There, but I recognized Yi-Ching Lu in a promo still from the film, and that’s the same character in the movie, so I was confused until I read this from Tony Rayns: “Complicating matters just a little, she is played by all three of Tsai’s favorite actors: Yang Kuei-mei in the prologue, Lu Yi-ching in the supermarket, and Chen Shiang-chyi in the closing scenes.”

Woman 2:

Nick Pinkerton on the woman:

Every time a new actress replaces the last, the character is introduced in such a fashion that it’s impossible to gauge their familiarity or lack thereof with Lee’s character or the children. There is sufficient evidence to suggest either that they are all facets of the same woman, or that they are three different women altogether; there’s not enough evidence to prove either conclusion. Tsai’s own explanation is that, having suffered recent ill health, he feared that this would be his last chance to work with the actresses.

Woman 3:

If there’s anything Walker has taught me it’s to appreciate very small movements and variations in apparent stillness – plenty of opportunity for that here. This is a movie that ends with a twenty-minute scene (in two shots) of two people staring at a wall. Before that, the woman seems to kidnap Lee’s children, then they all end up at her house together, where he quietly breaks into her collection of tiny liquor bottles.

Lee vs. cabbage:

Tsai’s apparent obsession with water (and peeing) continues here. Watching so much of his work in a row made me yearn for noodles, but I didn’t explain myself sufficiently so Katy made lasagna.

Pinkerton again, from his fantastic review in Reverse Shot:

The battering rains which never seem to cease in Tsai’s Taipei have, like time, the power to erode, wear down — and with time, as Lee has grown from lost boy to thickset, ruddy middle-aged man, Tsai’s cinema has itself eroded. The trajectory of Tsai’s filmography has been an ongoing act of paring away. It seems difficult to believe today, but Rebels of the Neon Gods actually had energetic tracking shots. It had theme music! Catchy theme music! … In Tsai’s fallen world, his tired, poor, wretched refuse can ask for nothing more than refuge, silence and space enough to dream in and something better to dream of, a shrine to honor with their tears. In Stray Dogs, that shrine is the shore of a virginal Taiwan. For the rest of us who persist in a habit of staring at pictures on walls, Stray Dogs itself will do nicely.

Woman 1:

Tsai:

When I was a little boy, I used to go to a market next to a clock tower with my grandmother. In my memory, that clock tower looked gigantic. A while later, when the market disappeared, the tower looked more diminutive than ever. Each time I walked past that tower I felt sorrow. Sometimes reality is so depressing one can barely face it. Those disappeared theaters from the memories of my childhood, when I began traveling the world, I realized they can be found everywhere, in equal states of dilapidation, many of which become cruising spots. I liked to go on my own adventures in these places. It’s so hard to describe the feeling I get in these spaces, like a dream covered in mold. Typical trajectories are not part of my world, or my films, and most definitely not part of my dreams.

Xiao Kang (2015)

Since I watched a Tsai short after What Time Is It There, I dug up this two-minute, windowboxed, sepia-toned piece focusing on Lee Kang-sheng. Used as a trailer for the Vienna film festival which began last month.

M. D’Angelo:

One day I may sit down and watch his entire oeuvre in succession — it’s hard to think of another contemporary filmmaker for which that project would potentially be more revelatory.

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:

Tsai:

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.

A Walker sequel, now costarring Denis Lavant of Holy Motors! Fourteen shots, and four are exceptionally long, beginning with a dim opening close-up of Lavant’s face.

Red Monk climbs stone stairs, walks through immaculately composed frames, with a couple cuts back to Lavant’s immobile head in different poses.

In the longest shot of the movie, Monk slowly (do I need to say “slowly”?) descends a staircase. Most people dodge him, but one girl stops and tries to figure him out.

Finally the big moment, as the Monk walks past a crowded corner followed by Lavant, focusing hard and copying each step (though Lavant leans more, and uses his arms for balance).

Beautiful finale in a square with a mirrored ceiling, the monk arriving belatedly from the side and not able to compete visually with the man blowing giant soap bubbles in the center.

Lee Kang-sheng and Tsai Ming Liang have other recent shorts listed on IMDB, including Walking On Water and Sleepwalk, so I’m guessing there are more Walker movies out there. Bring ’em on.

In Taiwan, the week leading up to January 2000, TV news reports that people are experiencing flu-like symptoms and then acting like cockroaches. But all we see is a strangely depopulated apartment building and market under constant rain. Drunken grocer (Kang-sheng Lee, star of every Tsai movie including Walker) upstairs has a nice place except for the hole the plumber has put in his floor leading to a woman downstairs (Kuei-Mei Yang, porn actress in The Wayward Cloud, schoolteacher in Eat Drink Man Woman) whose place is slowly flooding. So there’s a water shortage in The Wayward Cloud, plus a musical number set in a water tank of some sort – and now The Hole is the dampest movie I’ve ever seen.

Finally, I think he saves her from becoming a cockroach, pulling her upstairs through the hole. Is that what happens? Lot of long shots with slow tracking. Cool scene where he’s smoking on his landing while she’s on her own floor, pretending not to see each other, then a lipsync dance scene where she keeps chasing him while he escapes, all very Dennis Potter.

Acquarello:

Tsai’s oblique vision of a languishing, highly industrialized, and impersonal post “economic miracle” Taiwan recalls the bleak landscape and pervasive ennui of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films. The sound of incessant rain, extended silence, and viral quarantine create a sense of claustrophobia.

Part of the “2000 as Seen By” series. I’ve seen Hartley’s Book of Life and Sissako’s Life on Earth, not the ones by Miguel Albaladejo, Alain Berliner, Daniela Thomas and Walter Salles, Ildiko Enyedi or Laurent Cantet.

The Pilgrim (1916, Frank Borzage)

A little western two-reeler with a good piano and violin score, starring Borzage as the humble, good-natured title character. Shadowplay: “I can think of few westerns where a good bit of the plot is devoted to healing a bad guy, who then departs the story without being bad again.” D. Sallitt: “The Pilgrim focuses on expressions, on using cinema to stop time and ponder the feelings that people can only half communicate.”

Jerks, Don’t Say Fuck (2001, Zhao Liang)

A punk-industrial music video with thrashy editing, military images and other weirdness. Video glitches, super-fast motion and repetition.

Bored Youth (2000, Zhao Liang)

Shirtless dude in blurry night vision breaks a lot of windows, just a ton of windows. the sound starts to go out of sync and echo. Editing slows way down, showing off the glorious digital video artifacts in low light. This goes on for seven minutes. Then: repeated shots of a squid catching a fish, the sound of machine-gun fire, and a demolition crew the next morning.

Four Women (1975, Julie Dash)

Music video for a Nina Simone song. Backlit dancer wrapped in a sheet for the intro, then different dances and clothes during the four parts of the piano-and-vocal section, all danced by Linda Young.

Bauca (2009, Albert Serra)

Fullscreen washes of color, edited to a symphonic piece. Cutting follows the music, but rarely right on the rhythm. Song ends suddenly and picture goes white.

Dignity (2008, Abderrahmane Sissako)

Interviewer asks different people to define dignity, and each does so silently.

Sissako: “I think it’s very difficult to deal with such sweeping concepts as justice and dignity in the allotted two or three minutes, so I looked for an idea that actually asked the question ‘What is dignity’ rather than answering it.”

My Heart Swims In Blood (2011, John Gianvito)

A veteran does not sleep well. Voiceover tells us horrible facts about the current wars while the camera shows everyday scenes and watchful owls. This is his section from the omnibus Far From Afghanistan, which I hope comes out soon. I think Andre (My Dinner With Andre) Gregory played the old man in bed.

Walker (2012, Tsai Ming-liang)

Monk carrying his lunch walks through the busy city in extreme slow-motion. Just wonderful.

Okay, I am dumbfounded. Just gonna have to look up what others said about this. There were lavish erotic song-and-dance scenes (remember: this is the director of Goodbye Dragon Inn), watermelons, a country-wide water shortage, a friendship between a quirky girl and a porn actin’ dude, and a crazily offensive ending.

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Apparently it was a giant hit in Taiwan. Not here, I’m guessing. Reading the rave review in Reverse Shot, I’m thinking if this was an American indie movie by a filmmaker with no history, it’d be dismissed as an amusing, well-shot quirkfest-turned-rude. I did kinda enjoy it, but the ending left me with a bad taste in my mouth (HA HA HA). So I disliked both of Tsai’s features I’ve watched, but I’ll inevitably watch more of them, because I am a big sucker.

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M. Koresky:

If the method to all this madness seems a little hard to decipher, then the final 20 minutes are a terrifying crystallization. The mild courting between Lee and Chen finally intersects with the pervasive sexual exploitation going on upstairs. Yet Tsai’s final, truly shocking images are not bolstered by casual moralizing; rather, we realize we’ve been watching the literal deterioration of a civilization. It’s in the face of Chen Shiang-chyi, and her growing moral awareness, that Tsai finds his emotional outlet. In one of the film’s sole moving shots (if not the only one, but only a second viewing can corroborate this), the camera creeps ever closer to her horrified face as she watches a particularly nasty porn scenario being enacted on the other side of a windowed wall. Her witnessing isn’t voyeurism as much as it is coming to terms with social decline (which she had been staving off through out the rest of the film, endlessly re-filling bottled water and hoarding melons). Here there is no way to reclaim what’s been lost; her head becomes nearly literally impaled on a penis. Nearly dystopic in its portrait of decline, The Wayward Cloud shows Tsai giving up a little restraint. It may be slightly out of control, but the mess suits Tsai well.

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A.O. Scott:

Mr. Tsai’s placid camera seems unusually restless; the number of zooms and pans reaches double figures. At least as shocking are the fantastically costumed, sloppily choreographed musical numbers, by far the noisiest and most kinetic moments in his oeuvre. These departures, and the explicit sex, suggest an impulse to break new formal ground, but they are also evidence of imaginative fatigue.

Hsiao-Kang was selling watches on the street in “What Time Is It There?” when he encountered Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi). In “The Wayward Cloud,” Shiang-chyi has returned from Paris (or so we must infer) to a drab apartment building in Taipei. She spends her time scavenging for water and inhabiting the wide, static shots that are Mr. Tsai’s most consistent signature. She and Hsiao-Kang cross paths and edge toward a glum, twitchy romance, consummated in a final sequence that has already become something of a conversation piece.

With this scene, Mr. Tsai joins the ranks of filmmakers — not all of them French — who have trampled the boundary that separates simulated on-screen sex from the real thing. (A long close-up erases any ambiguity …) But the display is less shocking for its sexual frankness than for its aesthetic crudity. It feels willed, aggressive and unconvincing — clammy rather than cool — in a way that suggests artistic frustration rather than discovery. The water shortage may be a metaphor for the director’s creative desiccation, which his admirers can only hope is temporary.

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K. Uhlich:

Tsai’s comical sense of alienation, heightened by several ribald musical interludes, makes for uneasy bedfellows with his politically charged and quite baldly apparent thesis: that Taiwan itself is a wayward cloud, trapped between various and sundry pan-Asian interests and influences. If that reads as didactic as it felt to write then we’re one step closer to grasping the film’s highly problematic nature, not that Tsai makes much of an attempt to cloak it. One need only look at the infamous final sex sequence (which, in addition to Lee and Chen, features a comatose Japanese porn star and a Chinese airline stewardess cutout—theoretical signposts both—placed perfectly on opposite sides of a dividing wall) to experience the solidity and conviction of Tsai’s intent.

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N. Lee:

The Wayward Cloud’s sexual explicitness goes hand in hand with a shift from nuanced melancholy and stealth monumentalism toward garish, befuddled negativity. The result feels … ill-suited to Tsai’s delicate sensibility. … Tsai newbies are encouraged to start anywhere but here and work their way though the contemplative angst of Rebels of the Neon Gods, the plaintive geometry of Vive L’Amour, the moist musical apocalypse of The Hole, and the chic sentimentalism of What Time Is It There?, the most overrated of Tsai’s films, yet an essential prelude to the hardcore what-the-fuck (and why-the-fuck, and who-the-fuck) of The Wayward Cloud.

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Briefly in 2004 I thought I’d like to be a film reviewer. It didn’t work out – I’d just go on and on like I do now, but instead of writing my own thing for my own self, I was aiming to describe why You, The Reader should be interested in each movie. Ugh. I just read through these again, and the only one I enjoyed was this piece on Goodbye Dragon Inn, though it worked better with white text on a black background.


What does Goodbye Dragon Inn want from me?
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What do I want from Goodbye Dragon Inn?
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Some reviewer on the IMDB calls it “spectacularly dull… limp… smitten with its own stasis”.
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Stylus Magazine calls it “yet another masterpiece… starkly minimal… sublime”.
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Who is right?
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They are both right.
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Second half of shorts listing from Cannes 60th anniv. celebration (first half is here):

It’s A Dream by Tsai Ming-liang
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Occupations by a hatchet-wielding Lars Von Trier
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The Gift, more weirdness by Raoul Ruiz
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The Cinema Around The Corner, happy reminiscing by Claude Lelouch
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First Kiss, pretty but obvious, by Gus Van Sant.
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Cinema Erotique, a funny gag by Roman Polanksi with one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s large-faced actors.
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No Translation Needed, almost too bizarre to be considered self-indulgent, first Michael Cimino movie since 1996.
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At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World by and starring David Cronenberg, one of his funniest and most disturbing movies.
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I Travelled 9,000 km To Give It To You by Wong Kar-Wai.
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Where Is My Romeo? – Abbas Kiarostami films women crying at a movie.
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The Last Dating Show, funny joke on dating and racial tension by Bille August.
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Awkward featuring Elia Suleiman as himself.
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Sole Meeting, another gag, by Manoel de Oliveira and starring Michel Piccoli (left) and MdO fave Duarte de Almeida (right).
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8,944 km From Cannes, a very pleasurable musical gag by Walter Salles.
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War In Peace, either perverse or tragic, I don’t know which, by Wim Wenders.
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Zhanxiou Village, supreme childhood pleasure by Chen Kaige.
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Happy Ending, ironically funny ending by Ken Loach.
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Epilogue is an excerpt from a Rene Clair film.
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Not included in the DVD version was World Cinema by Joel & Ethan Coen and reportedly a second Walter Salles segment.

Not included in the program at all was Absurda by David Lynch (reportedly he submitted too late, so his short was shown separately). I saw a download copy… some digital business with crazed sound effects and giant scissors.