Tsai Ming-Liang

In Dialogue with Time, Memory, and Self

Oct 20–Nov 13, 2022


Days. 2020. Taiwan. Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang. Courtesy Homegreen Films
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

In the three decades since his debut feature, Rebels of the Neon God (1992),Tsai Ming-Liang (b. 1957) has built a contemplative body of work that ruminates on fundamental experiences of existence. His focus on themes of solitude, alienation, and desire early in his career eventually expanded to explorations of the passage of time, memory, and spirituality later on; Tsai aspires to observe life and, consequently, has put his inner self on display. A maverick whose long takes have stretched the limits of filmic minimalism and stillness, Tsai has also reconsidered the very concept of cinema by borrowing elements from performance and Conceptual art. Nothing encapsulates this evolving exploration like his ongoing Walker series (2012–), a set of films or, rather, recordings of live performances, depicting his muse/alter ego Lee Kang-Sheng as a Buddhist monk moving through contemporary settings at an impossibly slow pace, pushing against currents in time and space.

Often associated with Taiwan New Cinema—which marked the rise of a 1980s generation of auteurs, including Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang, whose work explores Taiwanese history and identity—Tsai embarked on a singular path, with an all-consuming focus on the personal and the individual. A decade younger than the aforementioned directors, Tsai, a Malaysia-born Chinese who moved to Taiwan to study theater at the age of 20, found himself immersed in a Taiwan gradually opening up after a long period of martial law, which ended in 1987. It was in this new political climate that Tsai established himself with films dealing with queer themes, personal space, social taboos, and unspoken desires. His second feature, Vive L’Amour (1994), earned him international recognition when it won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion.

Working with Lee Kang-Sheng, a fixture in all of Tsai’s features and nearly the entirety of his creative output, the director has crafted an oeuvre united by overlapping characters, actors, motifs, and scenarios. Projecting an aura of unwavering stillness and otherworldliness, Lee is inseparable from the director’s artistic universe—and even his personal life. On multiple occasions, Tsai has called Lee his reason to make films. As the director-actor duo ages over time, Tsai turns his focus to the subtleties of the human face and body. He has become, more than ever, enthralled by memory and the passage of time—in real life and on screen.

This retrospective, which marks Tsai and Lee’s first visit to the US since 2009, opens with their latest feature, Days (2020), and includes 14 features and four shorts directed by Tsai. A highlight is the first US theatrical run of Face (2009) on 35mm, a new addition to MoMA’s film collection. The director will share his memories of cinema in a special improvised live event, and two rarely seen films directed by Lee and produced by Tsai—The Missing (2003) and Single Belief (2016)—complete the retrospective.

Organized by La Frances Hui, Curator, Department of Film. Thanks to Taipei Cultural Center. Additional thanks to Claude Wang and Kanglan Chin.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, and Karen and Gary Winnick.

Major funding is provided by the Taipei Cultural Center in New York, Ministry of Culture, ROC (Taiwan).



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