Posted by martinteller on July 21, 2012
What the heck has Tsai Ming-liang been doing lately? The only thing he’s produced since 2009′s Visage is this 25-minute short. The film is produced by Youku, an online film site specializing in China’s “micro film” movement, allowing budding filmmakers to reach millions with movies made on amateur equipment like smartphones.
But fear not, Tsai’s film (which was bundled with three others in the “Beautiful 2012″ series) is not an amateurish cell phone production. It features Lee Kang-sheng (who else?) dressed in monk’s robes, carrying a sandwich and a plastic bag — presumably containing other food items, though it remains a mystery — trudging very, very, very slowly through urban locales. Busy crosswalks, train stations, bus depots, skywalks, back alleys and so forth. Lee walks with intense concentration, his head always bowed. He looks almost pained with focusing on the task of putting one foot very deliberately in front of the other. Around him, the city rages on. Some passersby stop to look or even take pictures, others bustle on their way.
Lee’s walk is slow. Tsai’s film is not, at least not for him. He seems to be moving further away from the ultra-long takes that reached their apex in Goodbye Dragon Inn. No one is going to confuse this for a Michael Bay film and the camera is still static, but Tsai keeps things interesting by cutting to different locations and not lingering in any one scene for too long. The slow walk is contrasted with the busy street life, and the viewer is invited to either share in the Zen-like concentration of the walker or drink in the urban detail… or both. There is a pleasure in focusing all your attention on Lee, taking his painstaking journey with him. But there is also pleasure in absorbing the surroundings, as when you suddenly notice a fish tank in the corner of the frame. And there is humor in the juxtapositions… I laughed out loud as Lee trudged past an ice cream truck, chiming its tinny tune. The song over the ending — where something finally happens with that sandwich — is quite curious, a Chinese pop song praising the virtues of wealth. The simple life of the monk against the pressures of modern, urban society.
I will admit that I’ve pretty much “drunk the Kool-Aid” when it comes to Tsai. I do recognize that he’s not for everyone, but I may very well be blind to his shortcomings, likely to enjoy anything he does just by virtue of having his name on it. I can live with that. As long as I continue to be fascinated by his work, I don’t care what the reasons are. I just hope he’s still in the movie-making business, he’s been far too quiet lately. Rating: Very Good (80)