Tsai Ming-liang  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tsai Ming-liang (born 1957) is one of the most celebrated "Second New Wave" film directors of Taiwanese Cinema, along with earlier contemporaries as Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang. His films have been acclaimed world-wide and have won numerous festival awards. He is openly gay and best-known abroad for directing the risqué The Wayward Cloud.



Tsai is a Chinese born in Malaysia, and lived there "in a very simple small village" for 20 years after which he moved to Taipei. This, he says, had "a huge impact on [his] mind and psyche", perhaps later mirrored in his films. "Even today," says Tsai, "I feel I belong neither to Taiwan nor to Malaysia. In a sense, I can go anywhere I want and fit in, but I never feel that sense of belonging."

He graduated from the Drama and Cinema Department of the Chinese Cultural University of Taiwan in 1982 and worked as a theatrical producer, screenwriter and television director in Hong Kong.

Tsai's honours include a Golden Lion (best picture) for Vive L'Amour at the Venice Film Festival in 1994, the Silver Bear/Special Jury Prize for The River at the 1997 Berlin International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI award for The Hole at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and the Alfred Bauer Award and Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for The Wayward Cloud at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival.

All his films have featured Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng.

The Malaysian Censorship Board on 4th March 2007 decided to ban Tsai's latest film shot in Malaysia, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone based on 18 counts of incidences shown in the film depicting the country "in a bad light" for cultural, ethical and racial reasons. However, they later allowed the film to be screened in the country after Tsai agreed to censor parts of the film according to the requirements of the Censorship Board.


From the beginning, Tsai Ming Liang has relied on the long take as the governing tool in his feature films. Starting with Rebels of the Neon God, which is also his first and only film to employ an original (if any) soundtrack, and carrying on through to I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, his films are manifested out of a series of minimally acted out scenes, often dealing with no more than 3-5 characters, and containing little more than a page worth (pardon the slight exaggeration) of dialogue. And yet from the depths of the solitude his characters come to embrace, a hope of true communication often resounds as the last frame fades/cuts to black. Although seemingly cynical and depressing, the fact that his characters rarely utter more than a sentence at a time, never divulging more than the immediate and most necessary of information (friendly banter is non existent in his work), is not testament to the director's pessimistic outlook, rather it is his dire, unflinching need to dissect and explore the very fabric of possible communication. For what does it mean to communicate? If we take words to be the sole means of speech, then what would an image be if not a nonsensical interplay between eye and light? And yet we know this isn't the case. Thus the excavation of communication and interaction is a bodily one. And with the body comes notions of gender. But gender isn't an easy thing in a Tsai Ming Liang film. No codes, formulas, histories, or rules envelope or restrict his characters. Obviously these come into play when considering his films, but somehow Tsai succeeds in elevating his characters to almost ethereal positions. In a world where masturbating with bamboo pillows, having wordless sex with strangers, passionately kissing watermelons, falling in love with a stranger separated by a seven hour time difference, or contracting a mysterious neck injury that can't be cured, and where water is forever a symbol of both our deepest desires, needs, and that which we can never have enough of, it becomes clear we aren't dealing with any kind of "real." Yet the films somehow transcend this obscurity, in fact by precisely creating such a "real" world, all through the use of his governing tool: the long take.

The long take enslaves us, and will either suck you in with no hope of escape, or bore you to death, or some strange combination of both will occur, either way, you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen. The screen, Tsai's canvas, where the idea of a "motion picture" is literalized. The camera rarely moves, to the point where even the slightest pan bewilders the spectator. Every scene lasts, and lasts (drags a naysayer may remark). The stillness and longevity create and reflect the character's isolation onto the viewer (additionally, the long take is perfect for establishing a seemingly "real" world, because his films are shot on location, and by the time each shot develops, we are invariably entranced by the world his characters inhabit, otherworldly and unreal as they may be), but they are also excercises in the manipulation and creation of suspense and anticipation/expectation. But the payoff, fittingly, is another long take shot. Which wonderfully puts into question the viewer's preconditioned approach to film watching. How long is too long? is what Tsai seems to be inquiring. When you are dealing with non actors (like Bresson, his characters seem more like models) in real locations, the answer appears to be never. This can either be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on your politics.



Shorts & Segments

  • A Conversation with God (2001)
  • The Skywalk Is Gone (2002)
  • Welcome to São Paulo (2004) - segment "Aquarium"


  • Endless Love (1989)
  • The Happy Weaver (1989)
  • Far Away (1989)
  • All Corners of the World (1989)
  • Li Hsiang's Love Line (1990)
  • My Name is Mary (1990)
  • Ah-Hsiung's First Love (1990)
  • Give Me a Home (1991)
  • Boys (1991)
  • Hsio Yueh's Dowry (1991)
  • My New Friends (1995)

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tsai Ming-liang" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools