films seen
27
average score
2.44*
nationality
Malaysia - 65 years old
status
Alive and kicking
more info

A pillar of the Taiwanese New Wave. Slow pacing, sly comedy and offbeat musical numbers characterize his most popular films, sadly his later work is bogged down by too much navel-gazing and endless introspection. His core oeuvre is essential though.

Rare treats

The Wayward Cloud

Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun
2005 / 112m - Taiwan
Romance, Musical
The Wayward Cloud poster

The acting is top-notch, the camera work is spot on and Tsai's sense of humor is both unique and funny. Add to that one of the most stupefying and epic endings and you get my favorite Tsai.

The good stuff

Goodbye, Dragon Inn

Bu San
2003 / 82m - Taiwan
Comedy, Drama
Goodbye, Dragon Inn poster

Tsai allows you to slow down along with it, transporting you to a wet and distant place where you can enjoy the final day of a local cinema.

I Don't Want To Sleep Alone

Hei Yan Quan
2006 / 115m - Taiwan
Drama
4.0*/5.0*
I Don't Want To Sleep Alone poster

In the end I Don't Want To Sleep Alone is another typical Tsai film, with some slight experimentations that are in no way big enough to attract new viewers or to push away existing fans.

What Time Is It There?

Ni Na Bian Ji Dian
2001 / 116m - Taiwan
Drama, Romance
4.0*/5.0*
What Time Is It There? poster

The Hole

Dong
1998 / 95m - Taiwan
Drama, Fantasy, Musical
4.0*/5.0*
The Hole poster

Solid pieces

Sand

2018 / 80m - Taiwan
Experimental
3.5*/5.0*
Sand poster

The latest entry in Tsai's Buddhist walker series. I will say I wasn't too impressed with his previous entries, nor with anything he did in the past decade. Tsai has gone more in the direction of ego-documentaries and art installations, and while Sand fits the description of the latter, the longer runtime works in its favor (something surprisingly).

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There is no plot, none whatsoever. This is just Lee Kang-sheng dressed as a monk, walking very (very) slowly. The film consists of 16 static shots with just that. There is no dialogue, no apparent goal or destination, no camera movement. Just a guy walking around at a snail's pace. If that sounds like hell, don't even go near this film.

The shorts left me pretty cold, mostly because they weren't long enough to get me in the mood. This is the kind of film that transfixes, but it actually needs a certain run-in period to get you in that mood. The aesthetic quality of the film also seems higher, the ambient sounds are soothing, and the length is just right. Pretty hard to recommend, but this film like Tsai making a real effort again.

Stray Dogs

Jiao You
2013 / 138m - Taiwan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Stray Dogs poster

Face

Visage
2009 / 138m - Taiwan
Drama, Musical
3.5*/5.0*
Face poster

The inoffensive

Days

Rizi
2020 / 127m - Taiwan
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Days poster

An intentionally unsubtitled film. It sounds like quite an experience, certainly as it's a Taiwanese film, until you realize there is hardly any dialogue. People who have been following Tsai should know what to expect by now. Slow cinema in its purest form, observing people who are walking, sitting and going about their daily business.

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There's no real plot to speak of. We follow Kang-sheng Lee as he spends his days alone in a nice villa, a place that doesn't help cure his loneliness. Non lives in a small flat, and loves to cook traditional food. The two meet, spend a little time together and then part ways again.

Fans of slow cinema are no doubt going to love this, personally I don't think the cinematography is strong enough (though it is quite pleasant) to carry a film with no actual plot or dialogues. It's just endless scenes of Lee and Houngheuangsy doing very little at all, and that for two hours straight.

Worthy but flawed

Wandering

2021 / 34m - Taiwan
Experimental
2.5*/5.0*
Wandering poster

Most people have lost track of Tsai's work long ago, only a few dedicated arthouse fans know what the man's been up to lately. I can't say I've had too much interest in the things he's been doing this past decade, though they haven't been all bad. Wandering could be interpreted as closure for this period in his career, though that may be just my wishful thinking.

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You're excused to think there's a bit too much navel-gazing going on here. Tsai and Lee have been doing the Walker shorts for a while now, this time we're not watching the walker, but a woman visiting Tsai's exhibition of the Walker shorts. And so we are watching her watching Tsai's shorts. And then finally, Tsai himself is also there, watching the shorts with her.

As she leaves the exhibition she finds herself in the middle of nature, looking content. That's exactly how I felt after watching Wandering. Tsai delivers some fine shots and the soundtrack is nice, but it's good to see him bring this project to an end. This is for a very niche audience of which I'm not truly a part of. I do appreciate bits and pieces of it, but only to a certain point. Not the strongest, but also not the weakest in the series.

Afternoon

Na Ri Xia Wu
2015 / 137m - Taiwan
Documentary
2.5*/5.0*
Afternoon poster

More art project than documentary, even so this conversation between director Ming-liang Tsai and his protégé Kang-sheng Lee wasn't as dull as I had feared. It doesn't feel entirely natural and Tsai is a little too dominant, but it does offer a nice peek into the lives of two famous men who left an incredible mark on Taiwanese cinema. 135 minutes is just too long though.

Letters from the South

Nan Fang Lai Xin
2013 / 105m - Malaysia
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Letters from the South poster

I'm quite partial to anthology films, as they allow directors to go a little crazy. Because they are comprised of several shorts, these projects allow for a little more risk. One or two failed entries don't necessarily mean a failed film. For the larger part, anthology films deliver, but only when the directors are willing to play.

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Letters from the South was a bit disappointing though. For the larger part it's just run-of-the-mill arthouse shorts that don't offer anything unusual or memorable. Aditya Assarat, Sun Koh and Midi Z are interesting names on paper, but their entries felt muddled, unadventurous and a little lazy.

Royston Tan's execution is better, but not up to par with his feature films. Tsai on the other hand delivers the biggest disappointment of the bunch (a prelude to Journey to the West). The only one who rose above the pack here was Chui Mui Tan, delivering a challenging and beautiful little film that stands in shrill contrast with the other entries. I expected more from this film.

The River

He Liu
1997 / 115m - Taiwan
Drama, Romance
2.5*/5.0*
The River poster

Dubious filler

Beautiful 2012

2012 / 90m - Hong Kong
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Beautiful 2012 poster

I like a good anthology, but these more arthouse-oriented projects tend to disappoint. Beautiful 2012 managed to attract some interesting names, but the result is rather lackluster. None of the shorts really stand out and almost all of them felt rushed and underdeveloped, as if the directors sent in some leftovers.

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The concept is supposed to show the directors' visions on "beauty", but I only know because I read the liner notes. The shorts themselves don't communicate that at all, instead they are quite downtrodden and glum. I guess that's just what you get when you go for more arthouse-loving directors.

Tsai started his Walker series here, his short is probably the best of the bunch. Kim's short is pretty decent too, with some nice shots here and there, Hui's entry is forgettable and Gu's one is the worst of the bunch. Relatively short and somewhat varied, but unless you are a completist like me there's not that much here.

My Stinking Kid

Wo de Chou Haizi
2004 / 50m - Taiwan
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
My Stinking Kid poster

Tsai's TV work is clearly not as great. The story of a kid suffering from a rare disease has potential, but the execution is plain. We see the boy as he struggles through school, while his mom tries to educate the world about the nature of his disease, but apart from some well-scored moments the film lacks impact.

Vive L'Amour

Ai Qing Wan Sui
1994 / 118m - Taiwan
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Vive L'Amour poster

Plain forgettable

Journey to the West

Xi You
2014 / 56m - Taiwan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Journey to the West poster

Sleeping on Dark Waters

2008 / 53m - Taiwan
Documentary
1.5*/5.0*
Sleeping on Dark Waters poster

A documentary on I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, directed by Tsai himself. It's little more than a simple behind-the-scenes doc though, with Tsai contemplating some shots and explaining his motivations for making the film. While I did like I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, I think you're better off just watching the film again.

Fish, Underground

2001 / 30m - Taiwan
Documentary
1.5*/5.0*
Fish, Underground poster

In between his feature films, Tsai has always liked doing documentaries too. They tend to be somewhat rough and unpolished, but they're early indicators of the direction Tsai would come to take in more recent years. Fish, Underground perfectly fits that mold, so it wasn't really for me.

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Without much background information or context, this isn't really a very coherent doc. It's broadly divided into three equal parts, events or scenes that Tsai simply captures on camera. The middle part, with the dead fish in the ground, is the most captivating one, though only in a very abstract way.

The footage too rough for what could've been an atmospheric slice of life, the lack of coherence is too grand for any obvious themes to transpire. What you get is Tsai's lingering camera focusing on three scenes he deemed interesting for some reason or another. I clearly prefer his feature films, this is a bit too meandering and amateurish for my taste.

Give Me a Home

Ge Wo Yi Gejia
1991 / 52m - Taiwan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Give Me a Home poster

Another made-for-TV Tsai film. Without Tsai's usual focus on style and minimalism, his films are little more than social criticism. Fine if that's your thing, but this rather bleak and unattractive peak into the lives of poor immigrant construction workers didn't really do it for me. I prefer his more cinematic work.

Li-hsiang's Heart Line

Lixaing De Ganqing Xian
1991 / 51m - Taiwan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Li-hsiang's Heart Line poster

I've seen a bunch of Tsai's pre-cinema films now and though somewhat relevant to the filmmaker he would become, these TV dramas aren't all that great. You see flashes of Tsai's later self, but the poor production values and lacking cinematic appeal really hamper the enjoyment for me.

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With only 50 minutes on the counter, Tsai sticks with a very simple narrative. The film follows a budding love story between a factory worker and a widowed factory manager. Tsai documents the highs and lows at the start of their relationship, and that's all you're getting from this film.

The performances aren't great, the cinematography is mostly functional, the soundtrack feels tacked on, and the romance never truly grabbed me. It's nice to see traces of Tsai's lingering style, and it's a touch better than your average TV drama, but it doesn't begin to compare to his later films.

All the Corners of the World

1989 / 74m - Taiwan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
All the Corners of the World poster

The start of Ming-liang Tsai's career. Like his other TV work, there are small glimpses of the style that would bring him international recognition, but they are hidden in very mediocre TV drama. These films are hardly worth the trouble, unless you're a completist like me and you just want to watch all of Tsai's films.

Big nopes

Your Face

Ni De Lian
2018 / 76m - Taiwan
Documentary
1.0*/5.0*
Your Face poster

I used to like Tsai's films, but ever since he turned his back on feature films his work has gone downhill. I'm not sure what Tsai hoped to discover here, but unless you like regular folk sitting awkwardly in front of a camera, unsure what to do, then there's very little here. Point in case one interviewee who fell asleep.

Madame Butterfly

Hu Die Fu Ren
2009 / 36m - Taiwan
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Madame Butterfly poster

This was a really poor effort by Tsai. Madame Butterfly is a short film from around the time Tsai's feature films started to slip, as he seemed more and more interested in documentary film making and even art installations. It's not that I hate slow cinema by default, but there has to be more than a camera trailing someone for 30 minutes across two locations.

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There isn't much in the way of a plot here. A woman finds herself stranded at a bus station and can't afford a ticket to get to her partner. She calls the guy, but he isn't very willing to come and pick her up. And so she walks around, hoping to find a solution to her problem.

The camera work is extremely plain, the performances weren't very convincing and the plot is virtually nonexistent. It's probably supposed to come off very lifelike and natural, but this simply didn't work for me, hence it became an extreme drag. Much like Tsai's other films from the past decade or so.

Rebels of the Neon God

Qing Shao Nian Nuo Zha
1992 / 106m - Taiwan
Drama, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Rebels of the Neon God poster

Boys

Xiao Hai
1991 / 50m - Taiwan
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Boys poster

Tsai's final TV film, before he would start his cinematic run (and his rise to arthouse stardom). It's also the first film that would kick off his lifelong collaboration with Kang-sheng Lee. A landmark in other words, but only if you care about Tsai's career, as the film itself is pretty bland.

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Boys forms a nice stepping stone to Rebels of the Neon God, following some young, blossoming rascals who roam around the city and prey on younger school kids. Lee plays one of the rascals, but even though his crimes are petty, and the kids look like easy victims, his fate takes a turn for the worst.

If you like to plot the journey of a director then Boys is an essential piece in Tsai's oeuvre. At the same time, it's a very cheap TV film with mediocre acting, poor execution and subpar styling. I didn't get a lot out of it to be honest, then again it wasn't until Tsai hit the early 00s that I started liking his films.