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November 13 - November 16

Tsai Ming-liang Then and Now

This selective retrospective unites three rarely screened works by Tsai Ming-liang (b. 1957), one of the most celebrated artists working in contemporary Asian cinema. Tsai’s first two features, Rebels of the Neon God and Vive l’Amour, and the little seen recent work, The Wayward Cloud are all shaped by Tsai’s fascination with modern urban alienation and sexual frustration. They also share their magnetic lead actor, Lee Kang-sheng  who, much like Monica Vitti for Antonioni - the director to whom Tsai is frequently compared - acts as both emblem of the alienated city-dweller and as erotic figure, an object of ambiguous identification and desire. Tsai discovered the actor just as he turned from television to cinema, and Lee has acted as the filmmaker’s muse and creative partner ever since, with Tsai even attributing the slow, meditative rhythms of his films to Lee’s deliberate movements and ability to vividly embody a painful loneliness and listlessness melancholy.

While Rebels of the Neon God, Vive l’Amour and The Wayward Cloud often point, despairingly, to the ubiquity of alienation and the seeming inescapability of loneliness, they also possess a tender and comic side. For their depictions of lonely, drifting lives also carefully trace the ephemeral, unpredictable networks of abandoned and in-between spaces, those almost invisible trajectories and small rituals that somehow bind people together. The comic and deeply, achingly human side of Tsai’s always almost tragic vision gives it a lightness and grace that hovers somewhere between the delirious spatial confusions of Tati and the rich melancholia alternately explored by Buster Keaton and Chantal Akerman.

This program is presented in cooperation with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), Boston, with additional support from the CCK Inter-University Center for Sinology and the Fairbank Center, Harvard. Special thanks: Alice Wang, TECO Boston; April Chen, TECO New York; Teresa Huang, Chinese Taipei Film Archive; Marcus Hu, Strand Releasing.


Special Event Tickets $12
Friday November 13 at 7pm

The Wayward Cloud (Tianbian yi duo yun)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang, Appearing in Person
With Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu Yi-ching
Taiwan 2005, 35mm, color, 112 min. In Mandarin with English subtitles

Rarely screened in the U.S., The Wayward Cloud is arguably Tsai’s least understood and most neglected work. The film has, moreover, gathered a notorious reputation for its unusual admixture of strange musical numbers and very explicit, deliberately sordid sex - all filtered through Tsai’s signature stylistic minimalism. Like so many of Tsai’s best films, The Wayward Cloud is an offbeat love story, the tale of two lonelyhearts struggling to connect in a drought-stricken Taipei. Complicating things is the fact that one of the lovers - played, as always, by Lee Kang-sheng - is a porn actor, a profession that Tsai uses to evince the ambivalence about both filmmaking and sexuality that run throughout his films.

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Free Preview Screening for HFA members and Harvard ID Holders
Director Tsai Ming-liang in Person
Saturday November 14 at 7pm

Face (Visage)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang, Appearing in Person
With Fanny Ardant, Laetitia Casta, Jean-Pierre Léaud
2009, 35mm, color, 135 min. French with English subtitles

In Tsai’s latest film, Lee Kang-sheng graduates from the director’s muse to his alter ego, playing a filmmaker shooting a version of an ambitious restaging of Salome in Paris. Tsai’s second film shot in France, and the first feature given official license to shoot within the Louvre, Face features such legendary stars of the French cinema as Jean-Pierre Léaud, Fanny Ardant and Jeanne Moreau, as well as canvases by Leonardo and ravishing costumes by Christian Lacroix. Partly funded by the Louvre, Face may be the summit of Tsai’s mode of narration-by-subtraction, with the film’s structure distilled to a series of gorgeously choreographed and elliptical episodes set within the inner chambers of the Louvre and, most spectacularly, within the winter dreamscape of a mirrored Tuileries. As the director wanders in search of his phantom project, the  web of relationships among the film’s cast and crew are gradually revealed while many of Tsai’s preoccupations reappear: the haunting presence of lost parents and missing lovers, unexpected and eccentric musical numbers and unexpected sexual and romantic roundezvous. Face by Tsai Ming-liang has been commissioned and coproduced by the Musée du Louvre as opus 1 of the new series “The Louvre Invites Filmmakers.” This preview is copresented with the International Council of the Louvre.

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Sunday November 15 at 7pm

Vive l’Amour (Aiqing wansui)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang.
With Yang Kuei-mei, Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Chao-jung
Taiwan 1994, 35mm, color, 118 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Tsai found international acclaim in his second feature, Vive l’Amour, which traces the odd, accidental love triangle that loosely binds a realtor, her street vendor lover and the lonely young man secretly smitten with the street vendor. A crisp and often satiric snapshot of an anxious Taipei, the film’s moody portrayal of urban alienation and lovesick sexual games - and its brilliant use of contemporary architecture - continues to draw insightful comparisons to Antonioni. The empty apartment that serves as the uncanny center of Vive l’Amour defines the hauntingly underpopulated, makeshift spaces that will recur throughout Tsai’s cinema and serve as ambiguous stages, full of both melancholy and possibilities, where his characters comic, tragic and erotic struggles take on a strange and beautiful theatricality.

Monday November 16 at 7pm

Rebels of the Neon God (Qing shaonian nuozha)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang
With Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-ching
Taiwan 1993, 35mm, color, 106 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

While working on a series of short films about juvenile delinquents, Tsai met the teenaged Lee Kang-sheng in a video arcade and was inspired by the young man’s naturalness in front of the camera to make a feature film centered around his struggle with Taiwan’s college entrance exam. A haunting portrait of loneliness and misdirected youth, Rebels of the Neon God revealed Tsai’s ability to discover the expressive potential of overlooked everyday spaces - back alleys, motels, video arcades. The emergence of Tsai’s minimal aesthetic is apparent at key moments throughout the film, especially during those captivating sequences where the camera discretely follows Lee from afar as he desperately watches another young man whose successful pursuit of love and schoolwork exerts a strange hold on Lee.

Boys (Xiaohai)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang
With Lee Kang-sheng
Taiwan 1991, video, color, 50 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

One of Tsai’s last and most successful television films, Boys also marks Lee Kang-sheng’s acting debut. A slice-of-life tale of a teenager whose attempts to blackmail a younger student goes strangely awry, Boys is a key transitional work from Tsai’s early career that points directly towards the stylistic and narrative nuance of Rebels of the Neon God.

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