While never-ending rain and a strange disease spread by cockroaches ravage Taiwan, a plumber makes a hole between two apartments and the inhabitants of each form a unique connection, enacted in musical numbers.
Tsai Ming-liang returns with this latest entry in his Walker series, in which his monk acquires an unexpected acolyte in the form of Denis Lavant as he makes his way through the streets of a sun-dappled Marseille.
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
Warmth and Hope in Sorching and Smoggy Kuala Lumpur
What would you do l if you had to share an old flea-ridden mattress with a stranger in a scorching hot and humid Kuala Lumpur? How would you feel if you think you are sleeping with the person whom you feel attached to but realise that your rival in love is also in the bed? It's true that "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone", Tsai Ming-liang's 9th film and the first set in his hometown in Malaysia, is not a pleasant film to digest on a tranquil weekend. Yet I'm sure the gloomy reality won't prevent Tsai's fans or sensitive filmgoers from finding some hopeful and frivolous moments in the film. Superficially this slow-paced film explores the lives of lower-middle class workers and examines the reality of Kuala Lumpur as a multilingual and multiracial city. The best part of the film does not rest in the vivid representation of the workers and the city, but Tsai's passionate concern for human beings, especially their extremely simple wish to be loved and their fear of loneliness. Homeless Xiaokang (Lee Kang-sheng, the director's alter-ego) was robbed and beaten by swindlers in a rundown area of Kuala Lumpur, and brought home by Rawang, a Malay construction worker who is superbly played by Norman Atun. The kind Rawang lets Xiaokang sleep on an old mattress that he picks up from the street. Parallel to Rawang's nursing Xiaolang is the teahouse waitress Qi (Chen Xiangqi)'s taking care of the bed-ridden paralysed son of the teahouse owner (Pearly Chua). Unlike Rawang who finds stability and happiness in taking care of Xiaokang, Qi is desperate to seek for a new life, more than ever after her encounter with Xiaokang who awakens long repressed desires in her. The repressed middle-aged female teahouse owner is also attracted to the young body of Xiaokang, but astonishingly realises that Xiaokang's appearance bears resemblance to her son. Unexpected heavy smog from Indonesia begins to attack the city. In the seriously-polluted city, it is the common "syndrome" combination of loneliness, desire and longing for love and being loved that bring all the characters together. The chosen music is a significant supplement to the limited dialogue. The multi-racial background of immigrants in Kuala Lumpur is introduced through an aural mosaic of Malay folksongs, Chinese songs, Cantonese operas, and Bollywood music. You can easily identity the workers' ethnic background from what they listen, though of course also from the way they eat and dress. Even the rhythm of daily life in Kuala Lumpur is revealed through the sound. The noise from water-inserting in the building site where Rawang works is placed against the vague sound of Alazan from a Mosque. The local-styled coffee shop (kopitiam) is boisterous with mahjong playing sound, Malay news reporting, multilingual chatting sounds from the customers, and even the sound of plastic bags when the waitress Qi wraps up takeaway food for the customers. The lively scene on the ground floor is in drastic contrast to the silence of the first floor where the shop owner's comatose son (also played by Li Kang-sheng) lies motionlessly. The Cantonese love-story opera and the old Chinese love song ingeniously reflect the forlorn characters' emerging desires. Caught either in a poor or repressed situation, the characters all wriggle with intense desire, and endeavour to build connections with people. Despite all the alienations (Rawang is isolated from his peer workers and sticks to Xiaokang) and frustrations (Qi and Xiaokang's clumsy attempt to make love in masks), there is always a solution. After all, happiness can be enormously simple, such as merely owning a mattress and nursing a stranger until he recovers. Bearing Tsai's familiar stylistic conceits such as long takes and a static camera, usual concerns on the alienation and yearning of human beings and must-have scenes such as running water and sex, "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" however treats isolation as part of human nature, instead of a syndrome caused by the ultra-modernised environment as in Tsai's earlier films. Once again, Tsai proved he is one of those love-him-or-hate-him auteurs as applauses and criticisms were both heard when I walked out of the cinema. If I were to choose between the two poles, I would go for the former simply because of Tsai's minimalist techniques and meditative sensitivity. Despite not as amusing as "Hole", or as tense as "Wayward Cloud", "A Don't Want to Sleep Alone" is easily Tsai's most warmhearted film to date.
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