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No No Sleep

Posted by martinteller on May 23, 2015

We first met Tsai Ming-liang’s trudging monk (played by Lee Kang-sheng, of course) in Walker, slowly slowly slowly marching his way through the streets of Hong Kong.  We saw him again in last year’s Journey to the West, slowly slowly slowly marching his way through Marseilles (there were actually four more “Walker” films in between, but they appear to be impossible to find and seen by few).  There was a distinct evolution in the series, with the addition of Denis Levant playing a “follower” of sorts, and a more playful approach to form.

Here Tsai changes the rules again.  We see the monk in Tokyo, slowly slowly slowly marching along some sort of skyway near the train tracks.  It seems to be late at night.  After about seven minutes of this, a startling thing happens.  The action is now underground, in the subway… and the monk in nowhere to be seen.  The camera rides on the train, catching the city whizzing by in a blur.  We’re trained by the previous entries to play “spot the monk”.  But he’s not here.  Is Tsai telling us the world has gotten too fast, and left him behind for good?  Tsai’s films rarely answer the questions they raise.  This one seems even more enigmatic than usual.

After the train, we see a young man (Masanobu Andô) soaping up.  He is alone in the shower room of a bathhouse.  And then we another startling thing: Lee out of his robes, soaking in the bath.  Conventional wisdom tells us he’s still playing the monk, but there’s no way to be certain.  Andô enters the tub and sits next to him.  The monk (?) gets a vague expression on his face.  Is it fear?  Excitement?  Arousal?  The water distorts their arms.  They appear to be touching when they’re not, another beautiful expression of a common Tsai motif: the longing for connection and the inability to make it.

They are connected again via associated scenes.  First we see Andô in some sort of sleep chamber, presumably an accommodation provided by the bathhouse.  He’s restless, tossing and turning.  Is he bothered by the encounter he’s just had?  Maybe he’s unable to shake off the anxieties of the modern world?  Then we see the monk in a similar (the same??) chamber, and he is sleeping peacefully.  He has said “no” to “no sleep”.  He has a lot of walking to do, but he’s in no rush to get anywhere.

This is the most puzzling of the three (available) Walker films, but it’s done with Tsai’s usual graceful patience, intriguing mystery, and searching desire to understand and communicate.  This could well be the closing chapter of the Walker saga.  If it is, it makes a fine note to end on.  If not, I look forward to where the journey takes us next.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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