Last night I watched a film called Vive L’Amour by Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang. It must be about the fourth or fifth of his I’ve watched, and along the way Tsai has become one of my favorite working directors.
In his masterful What Time Is It There?, which I listed as #1 on my Top 10 list for Willamette Week a couple years ago, as well as films like Rebels of the Neon God and The River, this filmmaker has an exquisite eye for composition and an almost radical sense of restraint, particularly with dialogue. In many respects his are essentially silent films, at least in the sense that characters reveal themselves through actions, not words.
Many might watch Tsai’s movies and be frustrated by the very long takes and absence of dialogue—and it’s true, they’re not action-packed at all. But his work has a engrossing hypnotic power. His latest, Goodbye Dragon Inn, played at the Portland International Film Festival this winter. While it wasn’t quite at the same level for me as some previous films, I nevertheless was all too happy to sink into Tsai’s world again, where time seems to operate at a different speed, revealing the subtle feelings and idiosyncrasies of his characters and their universe of mystery, ritual and private obsessions.