You need to be immersed in slow cinema to really feel its beat and emotion and Tsai Ming-Liang’s mood piece about urban loneliness was lost on me on a small screen.
There is no denying that this is a beautiful film. We begin with ten minutes or more watching a static image of a man looking out a window as rain falls, then of his repose in a bath. Both images are defined by reflections and the slow pace of living alone. We see another man preparing a meal at home, moving in and out of frame as if we are watching a surveillance video. I couldn’t help but think of Michael Haneke’s Cache (2005), a film I admit to fast-forwarding through to see if anything actually happened.
There is a point to this film but only the most dedicated (or cinephiles like my MIFF buddies Kyle and James) will stick around for it. Rather than telling us a story, it allows us to inhabit the mundane lives of two men in urban Bangkok – an older wealthy Taiwanese man Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) and a younger Lao man Non (Anong Houngheuangsy). Their lives are not so different to any person living alone; Kang gets acupuncture treatment, Non runs a market stall. They eat, walk, sit and think. There is no discernible dialogue and any words remain unsubtitled.
The pay-off is when the two men meet and it is a moment of intense feeling and emotion, contrasting sharply with the isolated monotony of the previous 90 minutes. It seems to have particular resonance in our era of lockdowns where human touch is so often out of reach. We also see that this moment of connection continues to echo in their lives and it is a hopeful message.
I realise that I like this film much more in the retelling of it as watching it was a struggle.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.