Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang returns with a profound, meditative poem on the human need for connection.
Tsai Ming-liang has spent the best part of his 31-year career honing his unique blend of slow cinema. Seven years after announcing his intention to retire from 35mm narrative feature filmmaking after Stray Dogs (which won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice in 2013), the Taiwanese master makes a welcome return with Days.
Those already acquainted with Tsai’s work may be pleased to find that his time away exploring the capabilities of VR with the likes of The Deserted and Your Face has not changed his mode of style. Many of his trademarks remain, including long takes from fixed camera positions as well as the theme of alienation.
Lee Kang-sheng, the director’s proxy since 1991’s Boys, lives alone in a big house. Non (Anong Houngheuangsy) resides in a small apartment in town. Kang acquires the services of masseur Non in a hotel room. They inhabit each other’s lives for a small window of time before parting ways.
Plot is a nebulous concept in Tsai’s universe. Conventional pacing and story structure are substituted for ambience. Scenes can last for what feels like an age as Tsai focuses on a single image: Non preparing food; Kang taking a bath, or counting money in a hotel room.
Kang and Non frequently drift in and out of the established shot; the camera acting less as an active participant than a passive, indiscriminate observer. Sounds are limited to those of Kang and Non’s surroundings, such as rain pattering on a window pane, or traffic on a busy street.
Dialogue is scarce, and when words do emit from the characters’ mouths, they are often mumbled and indecipherable. To Tsai, verbal communication is superfluous to the revelations that can be attained through time spent in silent observation. It is somewhat ironic that for a film with next to no words, Days has a lot to say.
Published 29 Feb 2020
Tsai Ming-liang’s (s)low-fi masterpiece Stray Dogs finally makes it to UK cinemas.
By Anton Bitel
An 8K presentation of the director’s VR project provides a uniquely immersive experience.