Shot in Kuala Lumpur, Tsai’s elliptical style captures the odd beauty of old places that seem devoid of warmth as his array of listless characters try to seek for that elusive intimacy and connection with another human being.
Dir. Tsai Ming-liang
2006 | Malaysia/Taiwan | Drama/Romance | 115 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin, Min Nan, Malay & Bengali
M18 (passed clean) for some sexual scenes
Cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Norman Atun, Pearlly Chua
Plot: A day laborer is badly beaten, and a young man nurses him back to health.
Awards: Won Cinema for Peace Award & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Fortissimo Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Even within the cinephile circle, Tsai Ming-liang’s brand of cinema may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you get what he is doing, his films can be highly rewarding. I don’t claim to be a big fan, but I find his works intriguing.
I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone continues my fascination with the Malaysian-born Taiwan-based filmmaker, whose picture here sees him return to Malaysia (specifically Kuala Lumpur) to shoot another modern portrait of alienation and loneliness.
His regular cast Lee Kang-sheng and Chen Shiang-chyi return as a day labourer and coffeeshop waitress respectively. A third character, a Bangladeshi worker, is also featured prominently as he nurses Lee’s injured character back to health.
There are some subtle homoerotic touches, but Tsai foregrounds his work as a meditation on seeking that elusive intimacy and connection with another human being, no matter the gender.
His listless characters, frustrated by the loud ambient street noises, try to find inner peace and warmth. An abandoned semi-constructed building is one of their last refuges, for even where people thrive (e.g. coffeeshops, communal living spaces, etc.) there is a sense of coldness toward each other.
Tsai’s elliptical style of filmmaking is slow but immersive; he locates odd beauty in old places where his static, strategically-lit shots find magic in the mundane.
Look out for an extraordinary sequence as Tsai finds unusual humour in two people attempting to kiss and have sex in the suffocating haze as a result of the Sumatran wildfires—unfortunately, we sometimes get a good dose of that here in Singapore as well.
This underrated film also concludes with one of Tsai’s most artful shots in his oeuvre.