An angry yet meditative drama from Taiwanese director Tsai-Ming-liang
Stray Dogs explores the theme of stillness in both form and content. Taiwanese director Tsai-Ming-liang casts his regular actor Lee Kang-sheng as a father of two children struggling to make ends meet in Taipei. Standing for hours on end as he holds a sign advertising luxury apartments, Lee is usually stationary while movement takes place around him: cars and motorbikes bustle by, and strong winds make holding the sign upright a Sisyphian task.
But that is all part of the difficulty of desperate living in Taipei, with Lee and his kids sheltering in a disused building, surviving on cheap food and with few hopes and fewer expectations. Frequently Tsai has shown marginal lives and menial work (What Time is it There?, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone) but here there are two children to look after too, and Lee is no longer the young object of the camera’s desire, but a figure exhausted and defeated. During one moment while holding the sign, he talks of his anger in a rare instance of self- expression. But more often the despair manifests itself in a gesture: eating a cabbage with fury, or a chicken leg as if he wants to devour whoever might be responsible for the injustices he is suffering.
Tsai’s latest work is an angry film yet as always contained by his meditative style. The tears are there but we have to find them in moments of our own stillness. This is the director’s singular brilliance, even if for some it might be an endurance test: the frame, the actors within it and also the audience watching are all part of an exploration in contained emotion. General Tsai admirers may prefer earlier films like Vive L’amour and The River, but this is still rigorous cinema at its most assured.
Screening at Cineworld, Edinburgh, Sun 29 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.