On Tsai Ming-liang and Goodbye, Dragon Inn
By Apichatpong Weerasethakul
I had first seen Tsai Ming-liang’s work when I was a student in Chicago, in 1994-97. It was at the Film Center, and through VHS at home. I saw Vive l’amour that way, VHS. By that time I already knew the work of several ‘slow cinema’ filmmakers, but Vive l’amour was something else. For me, I don’t think it’s ‘slow’ at all. It is full of emotion and action. For me, many ‘slow cinema’ films work on a more conceptual or intellectual level, but with Tsai’s work I feel very connected. I could relate to the heat, the smell, the humidity. There’s a co-existence of happiness and suffering that brought back the reality of home in Thailand.
Rebels of the Neon God and his other films had a similar impact. I saw The River at the Chicago Film Festival. I took my friend with me, who happened to be Taiwanese, and he was bored to death! But I was crying, the opposite reaction.
I’m not into analysing movies, especially the ones that I like. So I never read about Mr. Tsai’s work. It was a personal pleasure, through the span of years, to connect his ‘elements’ such as a fish tank, breathing, time, and water, certain movements. Maybe that’s why I cried at The River.
"I took my friend with me, who happened to be Taiwanese, and he was bored to death! But I was crying, the opposite reaction."
I first saw Goodbye, Dragon Inn in Ljubljana at the Kino Otok Film Festival, which I love. I went in 2004—and there it was—Goodbye, Dragon Inn. The film wasn’t subtitled in English. Even now I still don’t know what the characters were talking about... And that was the last time I saw it. It was an experience which could not be repeated. In the scene after the film finishes and this lady goes from row to row to clean up, Mr. Tsai holds that shot... It was like a mirror of the seats that I was sitting along with the audience. The screen became a mirror, reflecting the actuality of the Ljubljana theatre, and at the same time, the amalgam of theatres of my childhood. At that moment, time collapsed. I’ve never felt so special about cinema since then. In my seat I was thinking, “This is the ultimate film. Remember it!” I didn’t want it to end. The film reminded me of the cinema palaces in my hometown, that big space... also the sound. The sound of that old King Hu film which is not like how a film is mixed nowadays... It was like a radio, this mono sound, which transported me back totally.
One of the characters in the film that I was identifying with is this ‘ghost woman’ who’s eating, I think, dry watermelon seeds. I was always doing that, buying from the concession stand in the front of the theatre and then eating these seeds, then throwing the shells away on the floor, which was full of them! It moved me tremendously as I had forgotten that.
I don’t know how the young generation would react to Goodbye, Dragon Inn, because for me part of it is about growing up in the similar space, and then witnessing the cinemas in your hometown disappearing one by one. For me it is personal because I became a filmmaker owing my path to these places.
I met Mr. Tsai some time later, and I think he is one of the people I felt super shy with. It was like when you encounter a beautiful spirit that has shaped you and influenced how you see the world.
Thanks to Apichatpong and Second Run, for letting us share this piece, which appears in Second Run’s Blu-ray and DVD release of the 4K restoration of Goodbye, Dragon Inn.