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Forest fires burn in Sumatra; a smoke covers Kuala Lumpur. Grifters beat an immigrant day laborer and leave him on the streets. Rawang, a young man, finds him, carries him home, cares for him, and sleeps next to him. In a loft above lives a waitress. She sometimes provides care and attention. More violence seems a constant possibility. They find another man abandoned on the street, paralyzed. They carry him. While no one speaks to each other, sounds dominate: coughing, cooking, coupling, opening bags; music and news reports on a radio, the rattle and buzz of a restaurant. It's dark in the city at night. We see down hallways, through doors, down alleys. Who sleeps with whom? Written by
I don't want to sleep alone - if you have incredible patience, then you probably won't have to. Otherwise, within 10 minutes, you'll fall into deep sleep, as did somebody in the same screening I went to. I have put off writing the review to see if my opinion would change, and I dare say it has mellowed down. I would have loved to condemn this Tsai Ming-Liang movie, but just like any other movie, its bound to have its lovers and detractors. I for one, disliked the film, but acknowledge its technical merits.
Simply put, the movie tells 2 stories, one involving a man (played by Tsai's muse Lee Kang- Sheng) being attacked by gangsters, and taken in and cared for by a construction worker (Norman Atun), while the other story involves a comatose man (also starring Lee) being nursed by Chyi (Chen Shiang-Chyi), a coffeeshop waitress working for Pearlly Chua's sexually repressed coffeeshop owner. In classic Tsai style, these stories are told in long, static shots, little or no dialogue, and through songs. The usual themes of alienation, repression, loneliness etc (fill in the blanks, you know the themes already) is commonplace in the movie, so much so that they become turn offs.
At times you wonder if it's a comedy of absurdity, and if the movie is a waste of film and resources. You also scratch your head wondering if those who have praised the movie sky high are out of their minds, or if they're following the bandwagon and praising the emperor's new clothes. However, I did enjoy the first few minutes of the movie when Lee's wandering man walked around the seedier streets of KL. In fact, there isn't really much clues that it's KL, it can be Geylang for all you care. And possibly every dark corner and roadside become commonplace as the narrative moves along.
If anything, Tsai is an inspiration, for his minimalist art form that makes as if almost anyone could pick up a camera, gather some actors (or friends with zero facial expression - you can mask them, or film from across the road so there are no close up shots to betray their lack of ability) around, and make something out of nothing. Just as how crazy men are called eccentric rather than mad if they have power and money, you'll just have to convince that you're an auteur with an amazing eye for details, instead of being called a crap filmmaker if you try and emulate his style.
To some it's pretentious, to others it's a contemporary classic in the works. The only way to best judge if you would like the movie, is to watch it yourself. Just be warned that you'll either be enamoured by it, or come out swearing every vulgarity you've ever known. I sure heard many colourful words when the mattress started to float. If compared to his previous work The Wayward Cloud, I'd find that a masterpiece. But then again, I've always liked my movies with song, dance, things that move, not just a reluctant handjob.
Will I watch future Tsai's works? Sure, if only as a test of true patience, for film school lessons and references, and to share in the perverse joy of listening out for newbies to Tsai movies as they exercise their freedom of colourful speech. They are a vocal bunch after all. Recommended only for hard core Tsai fans, and no one else.
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