Sometimes minimalism irks me. Sometimes it gets me. Journey To The West gets me. It offers no discernible dialogue or plot, instead it's a 50 minute meditative art piece wherein Holy Motors' Denis Levant meditates and a monk walks very, very slowly, often in public. Without doing much at all, it's hilarious, infuriating, profound, poetic, and utterly brilliant. I haven't seen any of Tsai Ming-liang's other films yet so I don't have any context but this works on its own. Like Chris Marker with La Jetee before him, Journey To The West questions the motion in motion picture. It questions the ambiguities of life - ideas of motivation, drive, purpose, relief, but also cinematically in the sense of conventional setup and payoffs and journeys. Above all, it's a film that revels in the tranquility of the moment (or not so tranquil), and while it's surreal in mood it feels utterly real, refreshing and revealing of the human condition.
Granted, the film definitely tests the boundaries of tedium, and if it were any longer I probably wouldn't have tolerated it as much, but instead Ming-liang is restrained and economic with all his dozen or so shots. Scenes like watching the monk climb slowly down a subway staircase for 15 minutes bleeds so much life. It's pure meditative cinema, stripped down but honest. Other shots are almost a case of Where's Wally in finding the monk among the crowd. It's delightfully entertaining and makes you think about cinema can do. Self-aware moments certainly confirm that Ming-liang isn't ignoring the audience. I can't tell whether he's is truly pretentious or laughing at us with this, but it works on so many levels. It holds a tense and quirky atmosphere that's interesting and strangely poignant, yet quietly exuberant. Helps that it's such a rich aesthetic experience with its gorgeous cinematography and dense sound design. I understand why many find the film hallow but this is a rich tapestry for me.
Journey to the West
Journey to the West
Tsai Ming-liang returns with this latest entry in his Walker series, in which his monk acquires an unexpected acolyte in the form of Denis Lavant as he makes his way through the streets of a sun-dappled Marseille.
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March 15, 2018 at 10:13 AM