Journey to the West is a testament to Malaysian-Chinese filmmaker Tsai Mingliang’s appreciation of the avant-garde; it is a twenty-five minute work consisting of twenty-one sequences of the Walker, a monk garbed in brilliant crimson robes, moving slowly through different locations in Hong Kong over the course of a day. The Walker is always juxtaposed with the vibrant clamor of human activity, standing out amongst the crowds with his nearly imperceptible barefoot steps. The Walker gains an unexpected acolyte, French actor Denis Lavant, who follows him and mimics his slow, measured pace.
Tsai has mentioned interest in developing a productive “ethics of slowness,” perhaps an atonement for the human sins of both reckless impatience and lethargic indolence. Journey to the West deviates from the social expectation that movies provide a consumerist form of entertainment, as the Walker and his haunting steps traverse the boundaries of traditional cinema.
“I have become tired of cinema. The so-called entertainment value of films in recent years, the mechanisms of the market, and the constant pandering to popular taste, all disgust me. I don’t feel the need to keep making films or, to put it more bluntly, to make the kinds of films that expect the patronage of cinema audiences anymore. I keep asking myself: what is cinema? Why make films? Who am I doing this for? Who is the mass audience? Are they the people who watch Spielberg movies? Frankly speaking, I am not interested in this at all… I can’t make films for the system. Cinema as an object of consumption limits my creativity. I feel disorientated by the speed imposed on us. For me, slowness is a technique, an instrument helping me to find a path through this disorientation.”