Ming-Liang Tsai

Active - 1992 - 2020  |   Born - Oct 27, 1957   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Avant-garde / Experimental

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Biography by Tom Vick

Along with Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang became one of Taiwan's most prominent directors during the 1990s. His films regularly appeared in festivals around the globe and he received lavish praise from film critics worldwide. Born in Malaysia in 1957, Tsai moved to Taiwan 20 years later and graduated from the Chinese Cultural University in 1982. For the next ten years, he supported himself by working in theater and writing screenplays for films and television. He directed his first feature in 1992, Rebels of the Neon God, which, with its tough but tender depictions of disaffected youth, earned him comparisons to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In addition to Fassbinder, Tsai was also influenced by François Truffaut, to whom he was exposed as a student. Like Truffaut, who developed a collaboration with actor Jean-Pierre Léaud over the course of several projects, Tsai cast Lee Kang-Sheng as the lead in all of his films. (Lee appeared with Léaud in What Time is it There? as an homage to Truffaut.) Although not a professional actor, Lee, who claimed his own devoted cult of admirers among Tsai's fans, exuded a unique presence onscreen and a naturalness before the camera that Tsai used to great effect. His style differed from his idol Truffaut's, however. As with his countrymen Yang and Hou, Tsai preferred long takes, few close-ups, and sparse dialogue. And like another of his influences, Michelangelo Antonioni, he displayed a genius for placing the camera at exactly the right spot and letting the action unfold before it. Rebels of the Neon God would become a template for the rest of his films, all of which, in some way, were about loneliness and walked a tightrope between deep sadness and deadpan humor. In his second film, Vive L'Amour, three isolated Taipei dwellers connect in odd ways via a vacant apartment. In the much more unsettling The River, a young man develops a debilitating neck ailment that may or may not be psychosomatic after he is discovered by a movie director and asked to play a corpse floating face down in the dirty Tamsui River. The Hole concerns a mysterious epidemic sweeping Taipei as the new millennium approaches, and features a number of surreal musical numbers. Perhaps his most humorous film, What Time is it There? features Lee as a man on the street selling watches and who becomes obsessed with the idea that Paris exists in a completely different time. In addition to his features, Tsai also made a number of videos and short films, the latest of which, The Skywalk Is Gone, was set near where a skywalk (that served as an important location) in What Time is it There? was demolished. The film both commemorated the skywalk and served as a bridge to the director's next feature. Tsai's honors include the FIPRESCI award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for The Hole, the Silver Bear at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival for The River, and the Golden Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival for Vive L'Amour.

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