Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-Liang)

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-Liang) 53 – Although director Tsai Ming-Liang’s nationality is generally considered to be Taiwanese, Malaysia is, in fact, his home country. With I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, his latest work, the director for the first time shifts the locale of one of his films to Malaysia, though the difference has surprisingly little effect on his approach. Although the tiniest bit warmer than the usual Tsai outing, Sleep is still largely an examination of modern alienation (specifically here the alienation of being in a foreign country), shot through with the director’s typically rigorous style. In what may be a slight case of diminishing returns, Sleep does less to extend the director’s body of work than to reinforce it. With fewer humorous moments than usual to lighten things up, the film’s slow pacing takes more of a toll than in most of his challenging works.

The plot, slim as it is, has two separate strands. The first follows a homeless drifter (Tsai standby Lee Kang-sheng) who is beaten by hustlers and falls under the care of another illegal squatter. The second observes a comatose man (also played by Lee) who is cared for by a waitress. These two situations are contrasted with one another, the former a sheer act of altruism, the latter essentially performed under duress. As the film continues, the underlying sense of sadness in both plots builds, with the first culminating in a state of unrequited homosexual love and the latter resulting in a state of requited, but unwanted, passions. Tsai uses his trademark water metaphors and other visual cues such as the presence of gasmasks to extend these personal stories into a more wide-ranging portrait of a dissatisfied society. His insistence on a morose tone is appropriate, given the desperate conditions of his characters, but it is so unremitting here that it sometimes feels forced upon what is at least one half of a love story.

Tsai’s style is essentially written in stone at this point, and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone hardly challenges it. With expressive use of the abandoned building that serves as the film’s primary setting, he turns almost every shot into a reminder of his characters’ interior loneliness. From the spiraling, dark staircases that resemble Escher drawings, to the giant pool of water that lies in the center of the complex, Tsai here is as visually adept here as ever, right up to the film's peaceful final shot, which shows the reconciled characters drifting into slumber.


Ian said...

I enjoyed The Hole but have mananged to miss the rest of Tsai's movies. I should do some catching up.

Did you see Black Book as planned? I'm curious to find out if the film will be a comeback of sorts for Verhoeven.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, where have you gone in your opinion?

Gerardo Torres said...

Hey Jeremy,

Reading your comments on 'I Don't Want to Sleep Alone' it sounds like I could like it. I basically think that Tsai's late work like Wayward Cloud (watermelons will never be the same) is pretty good stuff if self-referential. Very interesting film/musical imo; very enjoyable until the shocking ending, which was like Tsai invoicing us for the easy pleasures. I agree about the cheap pranks though. Great filmmaker - liked The River, The Hole, What Time..., Goodbye Dragon Inn, etc.


PS: 'The Fountain' (11)... ouch :-/

Sagaladoola said...

I watched it two days ago. I am writing lengthy comment on it, starting with the first segment.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone / Hei Yan Quan (Tsai Ming-Liang): Review Part 01

Master-Painter and his Societal Art