TIFF 2014 | Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France) — Wavelengths


By Shelly Kraicer

A small miracle of a movie, Tsai Ming-liang’s insanely slow mid-length film is also one of his most beautiful. For 56 non-action-packed minutes, we watch Tsai’s acteur fetiche Lee Kang-sheng, head shaved and dressed in red crimson monk-like robes, walk as slowly as possible through various urban spaces in and near Marseilles. This film forms part of a series of “slow walking” films, pitting Lee’s otherworldly near-still movement against various (until now mostly Asian) environments.

Here, in France, Tsai has for the first time given Lee a near-companion: the spectacular Denis Lavant, who is introduced in a confrontationally monumental close-up, and whose solipsistic world gradually meshes with Lee’s quasi-monk until, finally the two seem joined in unworldly spaces and an unearthly time of their own creating.

This may sound like a daunting film to watch, but don’t worry. It is by far Tsai’s most playful film in years, inviting the viewer to play games with what is on the screen: sometimes we wait anxiously for Lee’s monk to inevitably creep into the scene; at other times we scan the vast public spaces, playing a “Where’s Waldo” game to spot him. And sometimes we are even transported by Tsai’s ecstatic play of light, space, and time—cinema at its purest.