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STILL WALKING: THE POST-RETIREMENT FILMS OF TSAI MING-LIANG

JOURNEY TO THE WEST

By Brian Hu

When one of the greatest film artists of the past 20 years announces that he’s through, the film community stops and notices. When he then proceeds to reinvent himself and make some of the most innovative “films” around, it’s almost a cause for celebration. It’s certainly a cause for a closer look, and Still Walking: the Post-Retirement Films of Tsai Ming-liang does just that.

Tsai’s flirted with retirement before. After the release of his final celluloid work Face in 2009, Tsai said he was finished with theatrical cinema. But then came last year’s celebrated Stray Dogs, which took one of the major prizes at the Venice Film Festival, topped Indiewire’s annual list of best unreleased films, and introduced him to a new generation of international cinephiles. To which Tsai retreated once again, announcing his retirement.

It could be though that since 2012, Tsai has set his eye on a new path: the “walker” project. Once again inspired by the body of his muse Lee Kang-sheng, Tsai began to explore perceptions of bodies in space in stunning shots that make simultaneous different temporalities. Donning a signature red robe, Lee plays a monk who walks very, very slowly through cities and landscapes all with their distinct rhythms. It’s an abstraction of Tsai’s project with What Time is it There?, in which crossing different time zones produces excess sexual or spectral energies. With the “walker” series, the experience is much more stripped down and basic, but no less expansive in the responses they produce.

In Cinema Scope, Blake Williams describes this as Tsai’s “late digital period,” during which the capacity of digital video to capture duration has unlocked new possibilities of imagining movement and how it can be arranged on the cinematic surface. It’s present in Stray Dogs, which is in many ways the summation of Tsai’s narrative career and a fitting close – if it indeed is one. This period also represents the dovetailing of Tsai’s ongoing video installation work and his traditional filmmaking, achieving a synthesis envied by artists from both worlds.

“Still Walking” is a celebration of that synthesis and an inquiry into where it can go from here. It includes Stray Dogs as well as three entries into the “walker” project: Walker (from the Beautiful 2012 collection), Walking on Water (from Letters to the South), and Journey to the West. Together, they literally map the footsteps of Tsai’s travels from Hong Kong to Malaysia to Marseilles. They also form an intriguing thesis on cosmopolitanism and Chineseness. For kicks, we’re including the new digital restoration of Tsai’s 1994 masterpiece Vive l’amour, the first time Tsai stepped out internationally, lengthened his shots, and proclaimed that nothing would be the same after this.

Stray Dogs 5

STILL WALKING: THE POST-RETIREMENT FILMS OF TSAI MING-LIANG

VIVE L’AMOUR (1994)
Sun, Nov. 9, 4:20pm, UCSD Calit2 Atkinson Hall

STRAY DOGS (2013)
Sun, Nov. 9, 6:40pm, UCSD Calit2 Atkinson Hall
Thurs, Nov. 13, 8:00pm, UltraStar Mission Valley

LETTERS TO THE SOUTH (2013)
Sun, Nov. 9, 7:45pm, UltraStar Mission Valley

JOURNEY TO THE WEST (2014)
Preceded by: WALKER (2012)
Mon, Nov. 10, 8:40pm, UltraStar Mission Valley