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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2015 12:59 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:54 am
Location: Philadelphia
Tim wrote:
Can anyone explain how to complete an order from JSDVD? My order of the Tsai Ming-Liang boxset keeps being rejected at the payment stage because "Receiever tel length reach minimun limit". I've tried every way of presenting the number that I can think of but nothing works.

Any advice would be much appreciated. I emailed JSDVD but they have not answered.


As I recall, my number initially appeared in the "Customer Tel" field in the format "x(xxx)xxx-xxxx", and I encountered the same error message. I think the solution was to delete the parentheses and the dash, leaving only numbers in the "Customer Tel" field, and then entering the same 10-digit string into the "Receiver Tel" field in the lower half of the screen.

I hope this helps! I like JSDVD, but its checkout process (especially paying for shipping) is quite daunting.


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 3:52 am 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 8:27 am
Thanks so much. I followed your instructions and it worked. Two things mattered, presenting the number in ten digits, and entering it a second time on the payments page. Now I just have to wait for the set!


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 12:22 pm 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
I'm still very early on my my Tsai Ming-liang viewing so perhaps it was inadvisable to start my exploration of his features with his 'final' film Stray Dogs, but I liked it a lot despite finding it really challenging. And I guess that, after all, every journey begins with a single step!

I would basically agree with Jonathan Rosebaum's essay about the film in the Cinema Guild disc. I had also noted some that the film seems to have a seemingly achronological sequence of events. Are we seeing the action, such as it is (maybe 'vignettes' could be a better term?) in cause and effect order or have they actually been jumbled up? Or is there something even stranger or complex going on, especially regarding the female character? Is the film maybe slipping from a present day existence to scenes of a past relationship, and going back and forth?

This really seems not to be a film for anyone fainthearted about 'slow cinema'! I was amused remembering back to the recent flurry of articles accompanying the rerelease of Antonioni's L'eclisse in cinemas, often emphasising the slowness and supposedly inexplicable nature of that film! Stray Dogs is probably twice as slow, and the daunting aspect of this for me is that it pushes this style even further beyond Antonioni and even beyond Tsai Ming-liang's Walker films which at least include normal speed action surrounding and even necessarily contrasting against the slower central characters. There are a few sequences of that in Stray Dogs too (holding the signs against the passing traffic, at least until the close up cuts all of the extraneous surrounding world out of the film, or the way that the environmental conditions sway grass or throw rain into the character's faces), but many actually go even further than this by actually slowing the action down into almost static motionless tableaus for minutes on end.

These images almost dare the audience to check if the film has not just been paused, or whether the disc hasn't gotten frozen in the player and so on! Yet there are movements there (there is even a discernable story being told in segments that the audience can piece together, though it is probably the most challenging viewing experience that I have had in some time!), in which we watch tears form in a character's eyes or the characters slowly move through a scene, or brush their hair, usually stopping still for an extended period of time (in contemplation?) before turning to leave a scene, walking away seemingly unfulfilled and unsatisfied with the attempt. Though that may be my imposition as a viewer!

A number of key scenes centre around a painted mural in a ruined building, and it is almost as if the characters are mesmerised by it; or are trying to find some meaning within the image of a rocky landscape (matching the rubble strewn floor); or are trying to even inhabit inside it instead of the world that they are in; or even are trying to stare the unmoving, unchanging image down to see who will blink first, the human being or the art they have created. No matter how long we focus on it, there is always going to be the inevitable disappointment of having to leave that art behind again. Perhaps it is more fulfilling to turn the camera around and spend the time watching the characters looking instead, as we see them respond physically (this film does little to change the adage that Tsai made in Mark Cousin's Story of Film series that “I often film people drinking water. Then they either cry or piss. Bodies are containers, but also for emotion”! This time the director is applying it as much to the architecture as to the characters!), and unpredictably to an image that is monolithic and unchanging, or rather changing, in terms of decaying, in an achingly slow manner.

The following is going to devolve into tons of unanswerable questions but this was my wider impression of the film. In trying to piece together the story it seems to be about a family living in marginal spaces (sleeping in ruined buildings, eating on the streets and washing in public toilets; working as human billboards; wandering around shopping malls and through woods; etc) but the female figure is strangely absent, or rather appears to have been split into three (and as noted by Rosenbaum in his essay, perhaps is the same character split into three actresses) Is this meant to be the same person, or are we seeing different women in the lives of the man and his two children? Is the woman in the first scene who is brushing her hair and sadly watching her children sleep their mother? Has she abandoned them?

The children go on to 'build' a new mother with a cabbage and some clothes in another scene. Are they just playing, or trying to make up for their lost mother? They don't seem to be playing sadly, and instead are joking about the size of the doll's boobs! Then the father in another separate scene finds the doll, playacts smothering it to death with a pillow, then rips the cabbage head apart and eats it while sobbing. Is he angry at the woman for leaving? Did he kill her and is re-enacting it? Is he just very, very hungry?

Is the man even then the children's father? Why does the woman from the supermarket who the girl follows and who then cleans her up in yet another public bathroom, then follow the children and 'rescues' them from the father's boat, leaving him to drift away into the night while desperately calling their names? (Is this a scene homaging The Night of the Hunter or at least in the same fairytale vein of children observing inexplicable adult behaviour?)

And why after this do we see scenes of the family seemingly together again in a different (albeit still dilapidated) house with another woman. Is this a flashback to relatively happier times? To return back to the mural, was this a significant location in the relationship of the man and (any one of) the women? Is that final scene when he finally stops staring at the picture and leaves the room empty apart from the mural (and the audience staring at it still) Tsai's own Antonioni homage?

It is a very challenging film but extremely beautiful in its imagery. Perhaps the best thing that I could say about it is that I watched the film on a Friday evening and decided to leave the disc running in the machine to play continuously (thankfully the Cinema Guild disc plays in a loop after spending 20-30 minutes on the static menu screen) in the background of the entire Saturday! For the whole day I have been catching images again from various scenes, and sometimes coming to my own halt to watch the screen for a couple of minutes before moving on with various household chores. Which might be just as rewarding a way to rewatch this film!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun Oct 25, 2015 6:41 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 1:48 pm 
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Joined: Mon May 05, 2008 12:02 pm
Location: Los Angeles
Tremendous observations and questions, Colin! Many of your questions may in fact be unanswerable, of course, but that may make the film even more complex and intriguing. Makes me eager to see the film again. I watched it in a theatre and while it was indeed challenging, it was a memorable meditative experience. Your way of rewatching it, almost like an installation at your personal gallery that you can drop in and out of, seems very appropriate for the film.

You chose by far (for me at least) Tsai's most "difficult" film to start with! His others may seem like a walk in the park after that one! ;)


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 4:12 am 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
Thanks! I guess a lot of my commutes prepared me for this film! I felt a strange affinity to the characters from when my train is delayed and I have nothing else to do but watch the woods behind the opposite platform for half an hour with the occasional low flying aircraft passing overhead! I did entertain the idea of subjecting my family to this on Christmas Day as a good 'background film' to the early morning present opening, but I think they'd murder me!

I wonder if Stray Dogs is also another very abstract film about the economic crisis, given this dilapidated multi-floor building looks quite office-like, the mural is one of those artwork commissions covering an entire wall, and that at one point we see a framed picture of a gentleman in a suit lying on the ground, as if he was one of the Chief Executives who didn't manage to take their portrait with them in the chaos of escaping a collapsing company! Then there is that scene in which the man enters and wanders around a modern, clean and healthy house, before returning to the others in the 'crying house'.

Another aspect I really liked about the film were those occasional wide shots of a landscape with an extremely thin, almost razor-sharp horizon line at the very top edge of the frame, particularly that shot of the beach early on in the film. I guess the characters having 'limited horizons' is an apt metaphor, but I really liked the composition of those shots that make even the rarer outdoor shots seem oppressive!


Last edited by colinr0380 on Mon Oct 12, 2015 12:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:22 am 
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Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm
The economic guess is probably a good one as his films have constantly foregrounded such concerns to the point where it should be considered his main theme. He tackles other ideas of course, but they always seem to emanate from financial concerns. For example sex is in my experience always tied to money with this being more explicit with each film. You start missing sex because you need to work, then you have sex as as part of work, and finally sexual pleasure is defined by work and avoiding the effects of recession. You can seemingly play this game on any of his regular themes.


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 12:42 pm 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
It is still trapped in my to watch pile but I guess that idea of sex, work and money is most explicit in The Wayward Cloud? Though I've only seen a couple of the 'watermelon' images from that film, which I presume parallels with the cabbage in this one as a kind of metaphorical, and slightly impractical, substitute for a body part!


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 2:46 pm 
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Among other things! It seems you already have the basic idea though. I haven't seen Visage nor The River yet and in certain respects they may top The Wayward Cloud, but in tying the themes together I don't think a film could top it at least while remaining a Tsai film.


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 4:33 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm
colinr0380 wrote:
It is still trapped in my to watch pile but I guess that idea of sex, work and money is most explicit in The Wayward Cloud? Though I've only seen a couple of the 'watermelon' images from that film, which I presume parallels with the cabbage in this one as a kind of metaphorical, and slightly impractical, substitute for a body part!

Watermelons are also, in that film, a strangely heightened commodity, as they're also a major source of liquid sustenance in a drought.

And the scarcity or (more usually) abundance of water is a major motif in his films going back to Rebels of a Neon God. I don't think any of them (except for maybe some shorts) lack a scene with a leaking or flooded interior. Ruined buildings, the decay of technology, and economic failure are all recurrent themes, and several of the films do overtly tip over into dystopian science fiction (of the softest variety).


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 7:22 pm 
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colinr0380 wrote:
Then the father in another separate scene finds the doll, playacts smothering it to death with a pillow, then rips the cabbage head apart and eats it while sobbing. Is he angry at the woman for leaving? Did he kill her and is re-enacting it? Is he just very, very hungry?

I read this quite differently. I thought the father, in his drunken stupor, mistook the doll for his daughter and, fearing that he wouldn't be able to provide for his children, was attempting to smother it/her. This would explain his fits of sobbing during the act, and I suppose his eating of the cabbage as the scene continues just serves to highlight the pitch-black absurdity of the situation. I remember being amazed and very uncomfortable watching the scene when I first saw the film a few months ago. It was my first Tsai, too (and my only, to date, though I very much want to rectify that) and I recall being stunned not just by how extended the (single shot) scene was, but also how that extremeness of duration served to push the character further and further into desperation as it continued, while simultaneously bringing that very dark humor to the forefront.


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 4:51 am 
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Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
That's a great interpretation, and it makes sense that this scene gets followed by the supermarket woman rescuing the children from the boat Night of the Hunter-style (or perhaps Sunrise-style, if the conflicted father was perhaps planning on rowing them out into the lake to kill them!)

It even plays into the final extremely long shots of the characters watching the mural and the composition of those shots. The penultimate shot sort of shows the action from the perspective of the mural with the woman facing us and the man standing behind her. Your point about the man being drunk during the scene with the cabbage doll made me think that perhaps more than the mural, the woman's emotional reactions in these later scenes are as much due to the awareness of the actions of the man standing behind her. They might be sharing a moment but he brings out little bottles of alcohol to occasionally swig throughout the fourteen minute unbroken shot, and even without looking we can perhaps sense that the woman is aware of what he is doing from simply the sound of his breathing and exhalations after taking each swig from the bottle. Her second set of tears even coincide with the man opening the second small bottle of booze after a long pause. Then when he approaches her to nuzzle into her from behind she starts and eventually leaves the room, perhaps after delaying long enough to confirm the smell the alcohol on his breath and to decide to leave.

Then we get that magnificent final shot facing the mural and watching the characters from behind, much as the man had been doing with the woman throughout the previous shot. The woman walks off without acknowledging him, and then we watch as the man takes a few more swigs from the bottle before dropping it into the rubble and slowly staggering through the same door, leaving the audience with the empty bottle, the ruined room and the mural, all illuminated by the moonlight.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun Oct 18, 2015 6:34 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 6:48 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
I really enjoyed Journey To The West, also on Cinema Guild's Stray Dogs disc. It is another in Tsai Ming-liang's 'Walker' series, with the usual beautiful contrasting of extreme methodical slowness and relentless life rushing by, this time set in France with a brief cameo from Denis Lavant who of course fits perfectly into this milieu! I particularly liked the implication that you can perhaps get away with extremely slow walking of this kind if dressed like a Buddhist monk, as people might not want to confront you due to cultural sensitivities, but it would probably be thought to be even stranger, and perhaps even more provocative, if you were doing the same in 'street clothes'!

As always this is full of beautifully, carefully composed shots that are formalised and even surprisingly abstract at times (the images framed in mirrors and especially that scene on the street with the reflecting sides of the passing bus in association with an onlooker, which produced some stunning layers of imagery) yet still allow the outside world to encroach and react to the central character in the extremely long takes. (Although are they as much reacting to the camera as the character? Watching the filming as much as the strange, slow moving man/men? We even briefly see the camera set up reflected in the mirrored surface of passing buses in the relatively short carousel scene that comes in between the magnificently compsed, longer staircase and cafe boulevard shots) Rather than the stasis of Stray Dogs pushing the viewer to focusing on the character's internal reactions, in these shorts it feels as if that slow moving centre is there more to reflect the wider world back at the audience anew, showing the world passing by through that extreme contrast. I also liked the sense that onlookers were perhaps reacting more to the monk as 'just another performance artist' in this one (maybe a comment on Western aspiritualism? Or co-option of spiritualism as a fun new fad to be interested in and then move on from?), as he moved through plazas with other performers blowing bubbles and so on! (Did they add the bubble blower and especially the piano player soundtracking that final shot for the film, or were they 'found artists'?) I found it very interesting that the final shot sort of pointedly cuts out just before Lavant's acolyte/mimic character might have been expected to also appear in the frame, leaving a kind of Schrodinger's cat-style uncertainty of whether he is still following the monk or not.


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 Post subject: Re: Tsai Ming-liang
PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 8:33 pm 
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Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay on Stray Dogs


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