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
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.
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.
Worthy but flawed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.