Date & Time
Friday, February 14, 2020
Ida Noyes Hall, Max Palevsky Cinema
(Tsai Ming-liang, 2005) · This musical porn parody of a water-starved but watermelon-plenty Taipei charts the attempted relationship between a water-hoarding Shiang-chyi, desperate to explore her sexuality, and an alienated Hsiao-kang, a porn star incapable of romantic intimacy. The surreal, saturated musical numbers--including a glimmering merman crooning in a water tower and a cross-dressing, partner-swapping date in a park--delight just as much as the increasingly hardcore porn scenes strain, yielding a scathing critique of porn’s exploitative nature.
Runtime: 116 minutes
A leading filmmaker of the Taiwanese New Wave, Tsai Ming-Liang has produced one of the most striking cinematic oeuvres of the past quarter-century. Malaysian by birth, Taiwanese by residence, internationally funded but belonging to nowhere in particular, Tsai makes moody, pensive, deadpan films haunted by loss, failure, and broken attachments. But these films are not mere exercises in nostalgia: collaging the fragments of contemporary life into a cinema of alienation, precarity, and queerness, Tsai's slow style and serial characters iterate and interrogate all the ways attachment falls short amid the austerity, inequality, and increasing uncertainty rapidly proliferating in the margins of modernity. Tsai's muse, Lee Kang-Sheng, stars in every film as Tsai's alter ego, Hsiao-Kang ("Little Wealth"), a transient protagonist working job after unstable job on the abject underside of the fast and flashy global economy. Wayward encounters, unorthodox intimacies, and inarticulate desires give way to austere, surreal tableaus: shots and scenes extend for many minutes, producing a cinema as intense and precise as it is diffuse and disorganized. Individually, the films flirt with formlessness, but are threaded together by recurrent motifs--phone booths, flooded apartments, mysterious ailments, glowing screens, cockroaches, mumbled meals, lost keys, spiritual possession, and watermelons. As the series progresses, the films amplify, reinforce, and refract one another, exploring the incoherence structuring our attachments to objects and others.
This event is sponsored by Doc Films, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago, Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago with generous support from a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.