I watched Dragon Inn (1967) at home Friday night. On Saturday I was the only person who bought a ticket to Goodbye, Dragon Inn which is entirely set in a nearly-empty movie theater that is playing Dragon Inn… then I was the only person at West Side Story (2021), which is of course a remake of the 1961 movie. So, both of the newer movies are resurrecting the 60’s in their own way, both feature people watching their younger selves (actors from Dragon Inn are in the Goodbye audience, and 2021 Rita Moreno has a big scene with Anita, Rita Moreno’s 1961 role)… and both feature coin-operated fortune-telling machines.

Goodbye was my first Tsai film, watched originally on a blurry DVD, which inspired my first pre-blog web writeup. This week I’ve seen it twice – or, one a a half times, the second being a Metrograph stream in the background while I read Nick Pinkerton’s book on the film (and on so many related topics). Reading while the movie plays feels like a good idea, not only with the other Fireflies/Decadent books, but with books in general, which I should maybe always be reading with a Tsai film playing behind them. This movie seemed so slow and empty twenty years ago, and now it seems very full – and I wrote “so many cuts” in my notes, so my definition of “slow” is obviously very different now.

Apichatpong is a big fan, and I thought of his actress Jen when the crippled ticket taker was making her way around the theater. The first words aren’t spoken until halfway through, and they’re about ghosts. Later, our Japanese cruiser encounters a seed-chewing woman who may be a ghost, and he runs straight out of the movie. On the same day I watched this movie where a guy is confronted by a loud eater, a Florida cop was acquitted for killing a guy who threw popcorn during a movie argument.

“No one comes to the movies anymore.” Surprised at how small Lee Kang-sheng’s projectionist role is here, and how much of the movie takes place not in the screening room but the surrounding hallways. Despite being set in the back alleys of a haunted crumbling building, it’s at least as gorgeous as the King Hu film, probably more so.

Sand (2018)

A Walker feature – 80 minutes of walking extremely slowly. I was in heaven – Katy tried to ignore me. Emerging from a pipe onto a beach, past tents and hovels, the surroundings become more industrialized as his journey goes on. Other people sometimes heard in the distance, never seen. Where does he end up? Somewhere indoors, but not heading towards what looks like the exit. That long final shot transitions from machine noises on the soundtrack to the sound of ocean waves. Maybe the walker’s going in circles indoors but dreaming himself back to the sea. 16 shots in 80 minutes, filmed in Taiwan’s Zhuangwei Sand-Dune Visitor Service Park.


The Night (2021)

Bustling Hong Kong nightlife – not in a party sense, doesn’t seem like a party section of town, just everyone is out and moving around. Closes with a song about being sad the night has to end. Watched in headphones and thought I could hear the cameraman softly humming in my left ear. 13 shots in 20 minutes, no walker to be found.

Lee is taking it easy, getting treatments for a bad back, which includes having Anong give him a happy-ending massage in a hotel room. Anong seems touched by the gift of a music box, the two grab a meal together. Even less happens in 2+ hours than in Tsai’s Walker shorts.

I’d been counting shots but lost track when I had to pause for a meal – surely fewer than 100 total. Shot #9 was food prep, not a great camera setup but I learned a new method of shredding green papayas. Shot #20 the camera moves through an alley!

Cinema Scope’s pick for movie of the year. Blake Williams’s writeup ties it to Tsai’s earliest films with Lee, which I still haven’t watched, so I’m lacking some context, but I still don’t think I’m in the headspace where a movie this meditative is gonna be a high favorite.

I’d just rewatched Walker with Katy, hoping she’d want to go on a multi-part Walker journey before graduating to Stray Dogs, but nope that was quite enough for her, so I watched this recently-surfaced movie alone.

The walker is slower than ever, an even more hardcore viewing experience than the first movie.

Lovely urban digital photography.

Suddenly we are nude bathing with Miike (and Nightmare Detective) actor Masanobu Andô!

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.

EDIT JAN 2021: Katy read something about stillness, then agreed to watch Walker with me. I had Journey to the West and No No Sleep queued up next, but she did not delight in watching the monk walk very slowly, so Tsai-fest was cancelled.