HKAFF: Stray Dogs 郊遊 (2013) – Taiwan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 14th November 2013

Directed by: 蔡明亮 Tsai Ming Liang
Starring: 李康生 Lee Kang Sheng, 楊貴媚 Yang Kuei Mei

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

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Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang have always turned heads with his own unique style and with “Stray Dogs” he takes this even further by slowing and essentially freezing every waking second and frames in his latest effort. Whether this is a good or bad thing, it really depends upon the audience interpretation, but for me, there is only so much one can take, before being physically and mentally drained. The acclaimed 14 minutes scene, where Lee Kang Sheng and Lu Yi Ching are speechless and motionless starring in the distance is possibly the most exhausting 14 minutes of my life. While a film that possesses some moments here and there, may seem like cinematic magic, for the whole duration of 138 minutes, it is almost impossible to bear. Sure, it allows the audience to ponder and think beyond the film subject matter and reflect upon their own lives and problems, but surely there can be another way to show all that. In an offhand comment from director Tsai, he claims that films are too fast and what happens in real life, is really slow and everything is actually at this pace. Tsai may be correct in this statement, but a movie is about movements and in other words, a “motion picture”, otherwise, I would have went to an art gallery instead. This is not a bad film, but 138 minutes of people being motionless and doing nothing at all, is not exactly art in my dictionary.

Tsui’s regular Lee Kang Sheng stars as the failed father and husband in this film and his emotions is probably the most important thing that came out of the film. People are poor and living conditions are almost slum-like and Lee perfectly encapsulate this emotion and the constant outward stare of his face allows the audience to feel as though they too are in the movie, living those atrocious conditions. Lu Yi Ching who helps out Lee taking care of his kids at a local supermarket, reminds me of Ann Hui’s wonderfully life-paced “The Way We Are”. In fact, showing a movie in real time, where people live, eat, work, and survive can be interesting as seen in Hui’s award winning work, but “Stray Dogs” goes beyond living life and the result is an extreme that will never work.

All in all, “Stray Dogs” is not good cinema and with piss poor pacing, director Tsai has gone too far from reality. People do not just stare in the distance and motionless for an entire 14 minutes. If Tsai say he wants to reflect reality and real life, then he is wrong. Unless there is a gun pointing to my head, I am unlikely to stand outside in the rain, totally motionless, speechless and possibly mentally ill. Sometimes, the word “art” get stretched too far and for this instance, “Stray Dogs” is neither art nor film, it is just a personal film that is meant to be seen by himself and possibly only himself. I am sure, there will be fans of Tsai’s work and some colours and imagery are beautiful to look at despite the slum-like conditions, but that 14 minutes I wasted, will not come back to me. For that alone, I am bitterly regretful and disappointed. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 4/10

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