Imbued with mystery, sly humour, and an enormous heart, the latest film from visionary director Tsai Ming-liang (The Wayward Cloud) links together a series of sumptuously composed scenes that tell the story of a broken family living on the margins of Taipei society.
Though born in Malaysia and based in
Taiwan, Festival favourite Tsai Ming-liang
is, in the deepest sense, an international
filmmaker. His films depend little on language
or cultural knowledge. They reach us
on the level of pure instinct, with elongated,
tableau-like scenes, often without words;
with ribald physical humour; with emotions
too immense to be rushed — real tears
take time. Stray Dogs displays all of Tsai's
The film's unspeakably beautiful first
image — which seems to be a flash-forward
to long after the story ends — captures a
young woman in a verdant room, brushing
her hair as two figures sleep behind her.
From here we meet the film's central characters,
the vagabonds alluded to in the title.
We see two children, brother and sister, traversing
an ancient wood, or running along
a golden beach. We see their father (Tsai
regular Lee Kang-sheng) standing sentinellike
in the middle of busy Taipei traffic,
holding signs advertising luxury condominiums.
The irony is that this family can't
even afford to rent a shoebox apartment.
Like Tsai's sublime I Don't Want to
Sleep Alone, Stray Dogs plucks its characters
from society's margins; without
sentimentalizing their subjects, these films exude empathy for day labourers and the
homeless. As one mysterious, gorgeously
composed scene gives way to the next, we
come to know these characters, and something
of their history, a time when they
indeed had a home, a mother, a very different
sort of life. We gaze into their past with
them, are invited to share in their loss, and,
gradually, imagine some brighter future.