"I once had a dream, or a vision, and I imagined that dream to be of importance to other people, so I wrote the manuscript and made the film. But it is not until the moment when my dream meets with your emotions and your minds that my shadows come to life. It is your recognition that brings them to life. It is your indifference that kills them. I hope that you will understand; that you when you leave the cinema will take with you an experience or a sudden thought—or maybe a question. The efforts of my friends and myself have then not been in vain…" — Ingmar Bergman


I just want to keep portraying Lee Kang-Sheng with my camera, documenting him. It’s not even important which roles he plays in my films, as long as he is consistently there. Because I always use the same actor you can watch him slowly grow, and that is what Lee Kang-Sheng embodies for me. I just want to film him even if he gets fatter and older. And now we get to the question of “What Is Film?”. For many people, film is just a consumption article, something you buy. But in my opinion, when you think that is true, you are selling film short. Film has the potential to also be a lot of other things. And for me, Lee Kang-Sheng is a bridge towards that question: “What Is Film?”. Through him I discover what film is and what it can possible become.

I’ll go as far as to say that if Lee Kang-Sheng dies, I will stop making films.

Tsai Ming-liang on his twenty-year relationship with Lee Kang-sheng

I want to express the failure of erotic desire to be realized in contemporary urban space. I would like to make my films about disappearing, like The Skywalk is Gone [2002] and Goodbye Dragon Inn. The whole theatre is disappearing in that film! This subject is important to me because society changes so fast and everything disappears so fast - historical sites, culture. One day I walked to the area where Lee Kang-Sheng was selling watches [in What Time is it There?], and I realized that ‘the skywalk is gone.’ It happens in Asia like that, things just disappear. People in their forties have no way of finding traces of their childhood. Modern people are afraid of disappearance. Living in Taipei, for example, we constantly have to deal with compelling visual change. We ask the question: what do you love the most? Who do you love the most? You will lose them - it will happen in modern society. My films ask the question: how we can face the disappearance? The loss?

-Tsai Ming-liang



Have you been in the cinema watching a film, and it’s had an almost supernatural effect on you—elevated you out of your material state?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Yes, yes. That movie was [Tsai Ming-liang’s] Good Bye, Dragon Inn. Because it brought me back to my home town. It’s the same kind of cinema, and similar kinds of characters, and it made me cry inside. It’s one of the best films for me.


I didn’t intend to film Lee Kang-Sheng in every film. It was perhaps fate that pulled us together. After shooting the first film, Rebels of the Neon God (1992), he got a strange illness. His neck was out of whack for nine months. That neck problem became part of the film, The River (1997). The nine months of illness pulled us very close together. I felt I was responsible. It must be related to the making ofRebels of the Neon God. The reference of the Neon God must have offended the God. So I accompanied him to see doctors for nine months. Our relationship became very close. During those nine months, I realized the body could be out of one’s control. I saw the vulnerability of the body. I felt that’s a powerful subject that I should be concerned with. A lot happened between us. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t pull the camera away from his face. Observing this face became something very joyful in filmmaking.


I always tell Lee Kang-Sheng not to gain weight. Sometimes when I see him age, I feel very anxious. I am filled with conflicts. That sense of conflict is reflected in the way I handle my shots. I want to tell you one thing. It’s because of this actor Lee Kang-Sheng that I gradually discovered the meaning of filmmaking. I finally have the opportunity to look at a face and its minute changes, the minute changes over time. These changes are irreversible. They reveal the truth of life ceaselessly. I am very fortunate to capture Lee Kang-Sheng. Without this face, I don’t want to make films any more.

-Tsai Ming-liang

[Asia Society]


I was raised by my maternal grandparents from the age of three. My parents sent me to live with them after the birth of my little brother—I already had an older brother and sister and my father ran a noodle stall next to the local temple, so sending me to live with my grandparents could relieve their burden a bit. Actually, my grandparents didn’t live all that far from my parents, but my father would only come to see me about once a week; I spent all the other time with my grandparents. My grandparents also ran a noodle stall in their neighborhood, but there was something very special about them—my grandfather loved movies and my grandmother, besides the movies, also loved fiction. She read all kinds of literature, martial arts novels, romance fiction, she read everything. She is the reason that I today have such a strong affinity for literature. And they are also the reason that I fell in love with film…

My grandparents always sold noodles at night. They had a set schedule, bringing the cart out around 5:00 and finishing up around 10:00 or 11:00, but movies back then always had two screenings, which were at 6:45 and 9:15, so my grandparents would take turns: one would watch the early show while the other tended the stall, and then they’d switch. Grandpa usually went first and brought me along with him; when he got back and it was Grandma’s turn, she would bring me with her for the second screening. So every day I watched two films back to back…

When I got a bit older I started watching King Hu’s films, like Dragon Gate Inn, which I first saw when I was eleven years old. I still remember that very clearly. And Come Drink with Me, which I saw even earlier. When I was a boy I used to love pretending to be a marital arts hero from the movies and having make-believe battles with my little brother. I would always play the role of the fighting heroine Golden Swallow from Come Drink with Me. Since my grandfather and parents both cooked noodles, we had sets of these huge, two-foot-long chopsticks used for making noodles, which I would use as my weapons. (Laughs)

Tsai Ming-liang