Friday, January 13, 2012

The Pilgrim Men and Women

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) / Tsai Ming-liang
Tsai Ming-liang is the only director in whose films a protagonist may spend the entire duration of the film without ever having to encounter another character. It may well be reasoned that such a quality exists because they are alienated individuals living in a desolate landscape – if only two human beings were to survive an apocalypse, and if they were to be present in different parts of the world, how would they ever know about each other? (and Goodbye, Dragon Inn is more apocalyptic than any Hollywood apocalypse film) – but such an argument may wholly ignore the elemental reality of any Ming-liang : all of the characters in it are so goddamn busy, they just don’t seem to have the time to see each other.

Characters in his films are inextricably entangled in the execution of tasks that demand arduous labour –in order to survive the length of an average Ming-liang shot, they must approach even a simple chore with the seriousness reserved for an insurmountable obstacle. Therefore, the acts of climbing a staircase, standing at the urinal or eating a bun will all be conducted like another director may make the climax of his film: epic and herculean. The ‘motion’ in a Ming-liang film is all of-screen: the film that we can hear play in the theatre and we catch fleeting glimpses of, the rain that pelts the windows of the theatre-complex; thereby, via-the-soundtrack.

All the talk of Hollywood films engaging process-montages is fine (one thing-then the next thing-then the next), but consumed so wholly by their commitment (as opposed to performance) to a single accomplishment, Ming-liang’s characters must indulge in processes (as opposed to a single action). In the most particular instance of this phenomena, the ticket girl (Chen Shiang-Chyi),who wears an iron brace on her leg (and is the sort of figure who will haunt the theatre after her death), walks  up three flights of stairs to reach the projection room – she must deliver the steamed bun to her secret-beloved, the projectionist, but when she reaches the room after an year of climbing, he is not there. Her pilgrimage unconsummated, she must not lose her patience. What does she do then? She climbs back down.

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