The Ruin, Body, and Time-Image in Tsai Ming-liang’s Films: The Wayward Cloud, What Time Is It There, and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

  • Ivy I-chu Chang


This chapter intends to generate a dialogue between Tsai Ming-liang’s films and Gilles Deleuze’s theories of “the cinema of the body” and “time-image” to undertake a metaphysical and aesthetic contemplation of the dialectics between cinema, body, and time. In The Wayward Cloud (2003), the pornographic film-within-the-film through “mediated-body” and “framed perception” turns the body into the pure opsigns and sonsigns, exposing the phantasmatic status of body. In What Time Is It There (2001), with filmic strategies of dechronologization and deterritorialization, as well as the metonymy between body and time, Tsai presents the Taipei-Paris everyday bodies and Tsai Ming-liang-François Truffaut cinematic memory. In I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006), Tsai transforms the ruin in Kuala Lumpur to any-space-whatevers to make palpable the infinite virtual conjunctions of affection-images.


Deleuze Tsai Ming-liang Taiwan cinema François truffaut Time-image Body Ruin Every-space-whatevers Cronos Affect Queer Affection-image Pornography 

Tsai Ming-liang’s films, What Time Is It There (你那邊幾點; 2001), The Wayward Cloud (天邊一朵雲; 2005), and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (黑眼圈; 2006),1 are resonating to Deleuze’s metaphysical and aesthetic contemplation of “the cinema of body” and “time-image.” Tsai’s films can hardly do away with calamities and disease: River (河流; 1997) and Hole (洞; 1998) begin with flood and leaking house; Wayward Cloud revolves around drought; What Time has been overshadowed with the death of Hsiao-kang’s father; Sleep Alone has been permeated with smog and the vegetable man’s paralysis. Calamities have aroused existentialist anxiety, and symptomatic bodies not only expose the unbearable human conditions but also reveal the “durée” (the duration) of the everyday body through camera as well as the passage of time. Moreover, time-image and the cinema of body serve as the revealer of life and the non-chronological time, Cronos.

In light of Deleuze’s “the cinema of body” and time-image, this chapter will investigate how Tsai presents the durée of the non-professional actors’ everyday body through camera, and how he superimposes the crystalline circuit between the everyday body and the ceremonial body upon the voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit, oscillating back and forth “the coexistence of sheets of past” and “the simultaneity of points of present” (Deleuze, Cinema 2: 274)2 through non-linear or even false narrative as well as a series of visual overlapping and displacement. Through the cinema of body and time-image, Tsai’s non-professional actors live in fatigue, pending, and uncommunicative state. On the other hand, Tsai’s camera often connects with queer affect, linking the time-image of actors’ bodies to “out-of-field.” This kind of “cinema-body-thought” is not restricted to “categories of thought,” but to put thought into “the categories of life,” bringing about a potentially infinite set of combinations, opening up the possibility for new dimensionalities (2: 189).

The Cinema of Body and Time-Image

In terms of “time-image” in cinema, Deleuze explicates, since the World War II, time-image has substituted for “movement-image ” in cinema due to the break of the “sensory-motor link” (Deleuze 2: 270). In classical films, narrative derives from the sensory-motor schema, and successive shots and montage provide the spectators with various sensory-motion situations, with the movement-image linked to indirect representation of time (2: 271). In contrast, time-image has been seen in modern cinema, while the sensory-motor schema has been broken that one can no longer react to the rise of situation but to take a flight, go on a trip, or show indifferent attitude; one’s relation with the environment is chance relation or disconnected; the “any-space-whatevers” ( un espace quelconque ) abstracted from spatiotemporal coordinates replaces place-based scenario (2: 272). In other words, “there is no longer a sensory-motor situation, but a purely optical and sound situation, where the seer has replaced the agent…” (2: 272), as the time-image is correlated to the “opsign” and the “sonsign” (2: 273).

In exploring the relationship between time-image and body, Deleuze further uses the term “the cinema of body” to explicate that modern cinema tends to “present’ rather than “represent” the body, with the duration of film coinciding with that of the gesture and behavior of the body (2: 193). “Give me a body then” is what Deleuze employs to begin his chapter of “Cinema, body and brain, thought,” calling for a philosophical reversal of the traditional thinking of “thought” over “body” (2: 189). Deleuze terms “the cinema of body” to stress that “it is through the body (and no longer through the intermediary of the body) that cinema forms its alliance with the spirit, with thought” (2: 189). The cinema of body is to mount the camera on an everyday body, restoring images to the daily attitudes and postures of that body. Deleuze expounds the daily attitude is “to put the before and the after [duration of camera shooting] into the body, time into the body, the body as a revealer of the deadline” (189). The time-image of body reveals the body that contains not only the present, but also “the before and the after, tiredness and waiting,” linked to the “unthought” (life) and “out-of-field” (2: 189). Deleuze gives two examples from Andy Warhol to show the extreme cases of the cinema of body: In Sleep, Andy Warhol presents a man asleep for six and half hours in a fixed shot; in Eat , he shoots a man eating mushroom for forty-five minutes (191). Deleuze’s concept of “cinema of body” places emphasis on showing bodily attitude than telling the story. His thought of theatricality of bodily attitude and posture is inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s notion of “gest,” which is considered the essence of theater irreducible to the plot, while Brecht emphasizes the sociopolitical dimension of “gest” and Deleuze regards “gest” as not only “necessarily social and political,” but also “bio-vital, metaphysical and aesthetic” (2: 194).

Coexistence of Sheets of Past, Simultaneity of Points of Present, and Crystal Image

For Deleuze, “circuit” and “crystal” are two important concepts in configuring the relationship among thought, image, and time. A zone of thoughts, dreams, and recollections corresponds to a particular aspect of the thing: The thing or object passes through an infinite number of circuits, through incessant double movements of creation and erasure, simultaneously constituting “the layers of one and the same physical reality, and the levels of the one and same mental reality, memory or spirit” (2: 46). Memories, dreams, and even worlds are only “apparent relative circuits which depend on the variations of this Whole [—the expansion of the little crystalline seed and the vast crystallizable universe]” (81). Furthermore, Deleuze points out, “what constitutes the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time,” and we see in the crystal non-chronological time, Cronos, which, through internal splitting, splits the present in two directions: “one launches towards the future while the other falls into the past” (81). As a matter of fact, “the crystal constantly exchanges the two distinct images which constitute it, the actual image of the present which passes and the virtual image of the past which is preserved: distinct and yet indiscernible” (81). In short, crystal image not only reveals Cronos, the internal splitting of time, but also works as the indiscernible point for the actual image and virtual image to exchange with and slip into each other.

Deleuze further explicates how the chronosigns of direct time-image constitute memories and narrative. He elucidates that the chronosigns marking the direct time-image have two features: “the coexistence of all the sheets of past” and the “simultaneity of the points of present.” The coexistence of all the sheets of past has undergone “the topological transformation of these sheets and the overtaking of psychological memory towards a world-memory” (2: 274). While “all the circles of the past constitute so many stretched or shrunk regions, strata, and sheets,” of which “each contains everything at the same time,” the present is “the smallest circuit that contains all the past,” (99) and the past appears as the most general form of “an already-there, a pre-existence in general.” In short, memory is not in us; it is “we who move in a Being-memory, a world memory” (98). From the point of view of the actual present, Deleuze notes Fellini, “we are constructed in memory; we are simultaneously childhood, adolescence, old age and maturity” (99).

Another feature of the chronosigns marking direct time-image is the simultaneity of the points of present, which concerns the inexplicable distinction between the true and the false. Deleuze expounds:

These points break with all external succession, and carry out quantic jumps between the presents which are doubled by the past, the future and the present itself… We are no longer in an indiscernible distinction between the real and the imaginary, which would characterize the crystal image, but in undecidable alternatives between sheets of past, or inexplicable differences between points of present, which now concern the direct time-image. What is in play is no longer the real and the imaginary, but the true and the false. (2: 274)

In this respect, the simultaneity of points of present opens up false narrative with more creative power.3 In falsifying narration, the elements of narration are constantly changing with the relations of time they enter (crystalline). Deleuze points out, “Narration is constantly being completely modified, in each of its episodes, not according to subjective variations, but as a consequence of disconnected place and de-chronologized moments” (2: 133). The power of false comes from “a becoming, an irreducible multiplicity,” during which life frees itself of appearance and truth, and characters or forms are valid only as transformation of each other (145). Very likely, “I is another” replaces “I = me” (133). In the false narrative made possible by the simultaneity of points of present, Deleuze exemplifies, “at the same time someone no longer has the key (that is, used to have it), still has it (had not lost it), and finds it (that is, will have it and did not have it); two people know each other, but already knew each other and do not yet know each other” (101).

Time-Image and Two Kinds of Bodies in Tsai’s Films

Tsai’s films present two kinds of Deleuzian bodies: the everyday body and the ceremonial body. As to the everyday body, Chang Ivy I-chu regards Tsai’s film as theatricality of everyday body:

The everyday banality could be divided into eating, drinking, making love, taking shower, excretion, sickness. All these routines have been repeated and re-structured again and again through the interface between body and enclosed space, from which derive the meanings of life. In other words, the theatricality of everyday body showcases daily ritualistic small acts. (Ivy I-chu Chang 2002: 76)

Tsai’s films simultaneously explore the “durée” (duration) of the everyday body through camera and the non-chronological “Cronos” (inner splitting and growing of time) through which the actual and the virtual, the everyday body, and the ceremonial body exchange with and slip into each other. The former has been seen as Tsai mounts his camera closely on the non-professional actors’ bodies with the duration of film coinciding with that of the gestures and behaviors of their bodies; he also puts “the before” and “the after” filming time into their bodies, restoring the image to their daily attitudes and postures. His camera has recorded their bodies’ micro-movements and minute changes with the passage of time, revealing the tiredness, waiting, and “unthought” (life) of these bodies. From Rebels of the Neon God (青少年哪吒; 1992) to Sleep Alone (2006), the same non-professional actors have recurrently appeared in Tsai’s nine films, enacting everyday banality in calamities with minimal dialogues and movements. From a series of cinemas of body, we have not only observed the durée of their bodily attitudes and postures, but also witnessed how their bodies, from one film to another, have served as the revealer of time, with their changing, growing, and even deteriorating with the progression of time.

In these nine films directed by Tsai within fifteen years, Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu I-ching, and Miao Tian have repeatedly appeared with the filming time coinciding with the durée of their bodily postures: In Vive L’Amour (愛情萬歲; 1994), Yang Kuei-mei has cried for six minutes in Ta-an Park; Miao Tian has urinated for two minutes and nineteen seconds. We have witnessed the microcosm of the “becoming” of their bodies. Through Tsai’s camera lens, to note Sing Song-yong, we see “the everyday body decaying and deteriorating” with the progression of time (Song-yong Sing 2007: 39). Chang Hsiao-hung indicates that Tsai’s family trilogy including Rebels of the Neon God, Rivermake a living, and What Time was mainly shot in Lee Kang-sheng’s residency where he has been brought up. These films could be regarded as documentary of the “slow motions” of Lee’s growing up as well as the continuum of time-image which “reincarnates from one film to another” that they “open up infinite virtual conjunctions of life” (Hsiao-hung Chang 2007: 141–43).

In the three films to be discussed by this chapter, other than mounting camera on the non-professional actors’ everyday body and real space to reveal the durée of their daily attitudes and behaviors, Tsai has also engaged with more daring experiments to illuminate the non-chronological “Cronos” and crystal image through the time-image of their body. In What Time, Tsai deconstructs patriarchal family by beginning the film with the death of Hsiao-kang’s father. Through disconnected place and dechronologized moments, the dead father’s everyday body, passing through the ceremony of death and Cronos, appears in Paris. The moment of the father’s death is the crystalline where the father’s everyday body and ceremonial body exchange with and slip into each other. Paying tribute to Francois Truffaut, Tsai co-presents the aging actor Jean-Pierre Léaud’s imagery overlapping a then young boy in Truffaut’s 400 Blows (1959) and a now old man in Tuileries Park in Paris, crystalizing Deleuzian coexistence of the sheets of past. In Wayward Cloud , Tsai toys with the mediated nature of body, emotion, and perception through voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit while pushing “sex without love” and “love without sex” over the edge. Through a series of visual overlapping and substitutions, the porn film-within-the-film serves as a media for the trio-sex in which the Japanese AV porn actress (Yozakura Sumomo) acts as a substitute for Shiang-chyi to be Hsiao-kang’s sex mate while Shiang-chyi is eventually turning from a desperate onlooker to an ecstatic player. The trio-sex is reminiscent of the scene in Vive L’Amour , where Chen Kuan-rong and Yang Kuei-mei are frantically making love on bed with Hsiao-kang stealthily hiding underneath and desperately masturbating. Both films highlight the mediated nature of body to mimic the impossibility of establishing genuine physical intimacy and affection among people. In Sleep Alone, Tsai deterritorializes the ruin of a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, capturing the transnational migrant workers’ everyday body. A series of interrelated imagery and motifs encapsulate the mysterious connection between the vegetable man and Hsiao-kang, through which Tsai films the queer body in a falsifying narrative of “I is another” that shuttles back and forth the coexistence of sheets of past and the simultaneity of points of present, invoking the déjà-la world memory or the other dimension of one’s life.

In addition to the everyday body, the other kind of body in Tsai’s films is what Deleuze calls “the ceremonial body” (2: 190): a body passing through ceremony, a grotesque or glorious body in carnival or masquerade, or a disappearing or pathetic body reaching the point of “non-desire” (2: 190–91). The ceremonial body could be seen in the incongruous musical fantasy sequences in Hole , Vive L’Amour and Wayward Cloud . In these fantastic scenes, Yang Kuei-mei, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu I-ching, and Lee Kang-sheng in flamboyant costumes sing and dance in hyperbolic postures. The ceremonial bodies appear in the protagonists’ dream or imagination, projecting their repressed desire or anxiety. On the other hand, the ceremonial body could be seen in the Japanese AV girl’s exhausted body in filmmaking in Wayward Cloud ; Hsiao-kang’s father passing the ceremony of death and then appearing in Paris in What Time; the vegetable man undergoing daily massage and anointment in Sleep Alone; all of them enact the spectacles of obsolete body, crystalizing the protagonists’ double or another dimension of life. Furthermore, the protagonists’ ceremonial body and everyday body also appear as their virtual image and actual image, exchanging with and slipping into each other to the indiscernible point of crystal image.

The crystal image has been used by Tsai in his reiterative crisscrossing of the cinematic conventions while he infiltrates them with queer desire and camp aesthetics, exposing the imitative structure of gender and the phantasmatic status of body, in a way resonating to Judith Butler’s theory of queer performativity. Butler explicates that reiteration and citational practices of gender and sexual norms are the double-edged weapon in queer performativity, which at once opens up the process of identification and disidentification with the heterosexual normality. Insofar as the identification and materialization have never been complete, it is possible for the queer performers to infiltrate the heterosexual representational apparatuses with the indiscernible and unsanctioned queer desire during their reiterative process, exposing the contradictions from within (Butler, Body That Matters 226). The crystal image in Tsai’s queer performativity is fleshed out through the transposition between the protagonists’ everyday body and ceremonial body. For instance, in the musical fantasy sequences of Wayward Cloud , Hsiao-kang’s futile everyday body in porn filmmaking has been transformed into the vivacious vibrant body of a transvestite dancing to the songs of the 1950s. In addition, the crystal image makes palpable the non-chronological Cronos, through which the characters take a flight from the continuum of heterosexual temporality for a wayward cruise or ride. In What Time, through the metonymy between body and time, an anonymous gay cruising in public restroom reveals his naked body with a huge clock between his legs, flashing into view the mimicry of the saints and martyrs in the Western Renaissance paintings, with their naked body covered by fig leaves. Moreover, the dechronologized moment allows Hsiao-kang’s deceased father to depart from his heterosexual family in Taipei and to appear in Paris, where a lesbian Shiang-chyi falls asleep on her journey; the father eventually fades into the Ferris wheel at the Concorde, a symbol of Cronos (the entry point of time), slipping into the crystalline again. In addition, through an overlap of camera positions and body imagery between Hsiao-kang and the boy, Antoin, in Truffaut’s 400 Blow, Hsiao-kang as the film viewer is allowed to substitute for Antoin in a fantastic ride through time capsule to Paris. In Sleep Alone, the interrelated imagery and motifs of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Li Hsiang-lan’s lyrical songs of the 1950s orchestrate the false narrative of “I is another,” through which Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man serve as each other’s double while both have eventually been liberated from their everyday body and chronological time, connected to queer affect and utopian landscape epitomized by the three queer bodies lying on a floating mattress.

The Wayward Cloud: The Crystal Image and the Futile Phallus

In Wayward Cloud , the crystal image works as the distinct and indiscernible zone where Hsiao-kang’s everyday body (the actual image) and ceremonial body (the virtual image) slip into each other. Embedding the crystal image in a hybrid cinematic genre, Tsai camps along everyday banality to mock the futility of Phallus through the mutual parody between sexuality and politics. In his daily life, Hsiao-kang overworks as a porn actor with his fatigue penis always in waiting and tiredness. Right after he watched a porn magazine and masturbated in the bathroom for the upcoming porn filming, he falls into a dream enacted in the fantastic musical style of the 1950s. In his dream, he becomes a Phallus, wearing a penis-shaped headdress and chased by a horde of sexy girls in a public restroom (Fig. 3.1). These dancing girls in red corset, led by Lu I-ching, put a bucket on their head, waggling the two huge cones on their breasts and wielding the plunger in their hand. Accompanied by a pop song of the 1950s, “You’ve got to be a macho husband,” Hsiao-kang is pulled, pushed, and made fun of by those girls; he can’t help but run, dodge, and then hide himself within a garbage tank. Finally, he was “dug” out of the garbage tank by those impetuous sexy girls. In another musical sequence, those dancing girls dress themselves as gaudy flowers, singing a pop song, “I will give you whatever you want.” Soon afterward, they advance toward a towering statue of Chiang Kai-shek, the former national president and military strong man in Taiwan. They gather around the statue, fondling it and rubbing their thighs against it (Fig. 3.2). The parallel of the two musical sequences mocks the futility of Phallus with the mutual parody between sexuality and politics.
Fig. 3.1

The Wayward Cloud. In a fantasy sequence, Hsiao-kang becomes a Phallus, wearing a penis-shaped headdress and chased by a horde of sexy girls in public restroom

Fig. 3.2

The Wayward Cloud. The dancing girls dance around Chiang Kai-shek’s statue. The parallel of the two musical sequences mocks Phallus with the mutual parody between sexuality and politics

In contrast to the hilarious heterosexual erotica is a fantasy scene theatricalizing Hsiao-kang’s lurking queer desire and melancholy. After a big day of work, Hsiao-kang climbs up to the water tank on the rooftop of an apartment building, cleansing himself off the watermelon juice that was poured all over him for the visual effect of porn. Bathing in the water tank, his exhausted body has been transformed to the ceremonial body as he is sinking like a crocodile with his face and naked body sprinkled with numerous glistening blue scales (Fig. 3.3). He melancholically watches the half moon, lip-synching a lyrical song of the 1950s, “I only see a half moon,” lamenting his unfulfilled desire and loneliness. The contrast between Hsiao-kang’s lethargy in daily life and his arousal of being drag is rendered with alternating shots from Hsiao-kang and Shiang-chyi mired in their daily ennui to Hsiao-kang’s cheerful cross-dressed musical numbers in his dream. Preceding the musical number is Hsiao-kang’s daily inertia. He tucks a cigarette between Shiang-chyi’s toes, but soon falls asleep while Shiang-chyi tries to tempt him to smoke the cigarette. In contrast, in his dream, Hsiao-kang appears as a drag queen hiking around the sunny Chengcing Lake in Southern Taiwan. Joyfully and vivaciously, Hsiao-kang in gorgeous red dress is dancing around the pagodas with a watermelon-printed parasol, accompanied by a horde of dancing girls holding the same patterned parasol. In a low-angle shot, the arch of the bridge, in the shape of dragon’s mouth, serves as imaginary vagina where the dancing girls pass with the melon seeds on their parasol “swimming” like sperms (Fig. 3.4). Then, the group dance is followed by the rivaling gender-bending love triangle: Lu I-ching in woman’s role puts on Hsiang-kang’s red dress, Shiang-chyi impersonates a male in black suit, and Hsiao-kang remains a female impersonator.
Fig. 3.3

The Wayward Cloud. Hsiao-kang reminiscent of a crocodile melancholically watches the half moon, lip-synching a lyrical song of the 1950s, “I only see a half moon”

Fig. 3.4

The Wayward Cloud. In a low-angle shot, the arch of the bridge serves as imaginary vagina where the dancing girls pass with the melon seeds on their parasol “swimming” like sperms

The theme song “ The Wayward Cloud ” by Bai Kuang (Vivian Lee 2007: 130) and the musical fantasy scenes are Tsai’s nostalgic appropriation of the works of the 1950s. In an interview, Tsai admits his mixed feeling about the commercial musical films of the 1950s by Shao Brothers Studio, from which Tsai borrows their abundant visual and acoustic elements while rebelling against their overt sentimentalism (Rapfogel 2004: 27). The incongruity between the gaudy hyperbolic musical sequences and Tsai’s stylistic signature of stark realism of everyday body exposes Hsiang-kang’s queer desire with camp aesthetics. Jack Babuscio connects the artificiality, theatricality, irony, and incongruity of “camp” with gay sensibility to claim that “camp” is an effective strategy in queer performativity (Babuscio 2004: 122–28). Tsai’s citational practices of the musical films and the lyrical songs of the 1950s at once reiterate and deviate from the gender and sexual norms as well as the heterosexual icons in Chinese pop culture and films while infiltrating them with unsanctioned queer desire. Moreover, Hsiao-kang’s campy body with hyperbolic femininity in the musical scenes is a parody of the gender stereotype, which exposes the imitative structure of gender/sexual binarism in heterosexual representation.

Fetish Watermelon, Inflatable Sex Doll, and Porn Medium Body

The most controversial part of Wayward Cloud is the film-within-the-film—the porn movie-in-making by Hsiao-kang and the Japanese porn actress (Yozakura Sumomo). Faced with criticism, Tsai responds, “I am actually making ‘porn’ as an objection against porn.”4 Tackling the porn genre through a series of visual mapping, overlapping, and displacements, Tsai captures the sex scenes in a comic and absurd way. The role reversal between human and object is enacted with comic twists: the red juicy watermelon looks desirable and alluring; the Japanese porn actress’s numb mellow body appears like an inflatable sex doll; Hsiao-kang’s mechanically thrusting body with futile penis looks like a robot. The mediated nature of body and perception suggests the impossibility of establishing genuine physical intimacy among the protagonists. Shiang-chyi is longing for affectionate physical intimacy with Hsiao-kang, but she can only watch Hsiao-kang making love with the Japanese actress on TV screen or through a window frame. The film spectators expect to watch a porn film, but what they see is the watermelon-medium sex scene of Hisao-kang and the porn actress, or the virtual sex of Hsiao-kang and Shiang-chyi through a round window.

In the porn film-within-the-film, Deleuzian obsolete body seems to find a position to let the body vanish in an absurd way. The most awkward example is the watermelon-medium body in sex scene. In this film, drought has replaced the omnipresent flood or rain as seen in Tsai’s previous films, with the TV broadcast news warning the shortage of water and recommending watermelon as a substitute for bottled water. Watermelon substitutes for water to become a symbol of desire and lust, or even serves as imaginary vagina or fetus (Fig. 3.5). As Hsiao-kang and the Japanese AV girl pose for porn filming, the AV girl opens her legs wide in V-shape, with a halved watermelon in between. Hsiao-kang in doctor’s white robe treats the watermelon in a manner man treats woman’s vagina: He lustfully licks, sucks, and swallows the melon flesh and then digs his fingers into it (Fig. 3.6). Instantly, the bloodily red melon juice “ejaculates” with the AV girl moaning aloud. Hsiao-kang grabs a piece of melon flesh, tucking it into the AV girl’s mouth with juice flowing all over her mouth and face. Then, the camera cuts to Shiang-chyi who is lying idly on the floor in her apartment, dully watching the TV news about drought and watermelon. She opens her legs wide in similar V-shape, with a flower-shape cushion in between her legs (Fig. 3.7). Noticeably, the visual parallelism between the two women with their legs open in the same V-shape interrelates them as each other’s substitute or double. Back to the scene of porn filmmaking, an alternate shot on Hsiao-kang from behind shows him wearing the helmet-shaped watermelon rind as he is clumsily thrusting hard in between the AV girl’s legs. During a fake orgasm, the melon rind on his head abruptly falls down onto the actress’s. Then, the camera moves to Shiang-chyi’s apartment again. She is lying on the floor with the camera positioned behind her at the level of her eyes, through which we see the TV pictures framed by her V-shaped legs, a perception reverse to that of porn convention (Fig. 3.8). The perception here implies Tsai’s tease with the porn generic convention: In most porn movies, woman’s private part is shown in high-angle shot and close-up, but here from a low-angle point-of-view shot, we spectators are aware of Shiang-chyi’s perception while watching the TV pictures through her eyes. In other words, Shiang-chyi is the subject rather than the object of gaze, which is different from the AV actress in porn filming. Moreover, through Shiang-chyi’s gaze, we have been gradually involved in the voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit which propels us to the ending trio-sex scene through a series of overlapping camera positions, bodily postures, and visual imagery.
Fig. 3.5

The Wayward Cloud. Watermelon is used as a symbol of desire and lust or even serves as imaginary vagina or fetus

Fig. 3.6

The Wayward Cloud. During porn film making, the AV girl opens her legs in V-shape and Hsiao-kang in doctor’s robe treats the watermelon as an imaginary vagina

Fig. 3.7

The Wayward Cloud. Then the camera cuts to Shiang-chyi watching TV with her legs open in similar V-shape, with a flowery cushion in between. The visual similarity between the two shots interconnects the two women as each other’s substitute in sex scene

Fig. 3.8

The Wayward Cloud. Shiang-chyi is lying on the floor with the camera lowered to the level of her eyes, through which we see the TV pictures framed by her V-shaped legs, a perception reverse to that of porn convention

Watermelon has been used as imagery of sex and lust in various scenes: The cheerful dancing girls pass through the dragon-mouth-shaped bridge with the watermelon seeds on their parasol “swimming” like sperms through the imaginary vagina; Shiang-chyi opens the fridge, thirstily licking the watermelon and putting it on her belly like a pregnant woman; the plump AV girl soaked with melon juice finds herself harassed by a herd of ants within the elevator; numerous watermelons are floating in the river like raped and abandoned corpses. The scenes of ubiquitous watermelons suggest the city dwellers’ prevalent thirst for love and excess of lust. The spectacle that people have sex with their bodies mediated by watermelon implies the impossibility of establishing genuine and affectionate physical intimacy, and hence, they have to rely on watermelon as the substitute and fetish. Either Hsiao-kang and the AV girl’s “sex without love” or Shiang-chyi and Hsiao-kang’s “love without sex” has been pushed over the edge through the mediated body and framed perception in porn-film-in-making.

The porn filmmaking accidentally completed by three people is made possible by the voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit propelling a succession of mutual substitutions and displacement. Hsiao-kang who has been impotent in daily life has to thrust his penis like a robot in front of camera; Shiang-chyi who thirsts for physical intimacy can only peep Hsiao-kang’s erotica with the AV girl through the framed perception of TV screen or the round window. The voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit is set in motion as Shiang-chyi finds out Hsiao-kang’s secret by mistakenly playing a video of Hsiao-kang’s porn. Shiang-chyi, gasping and confused with what she has seen, crawls toward the TV set for a closer look at his profiled face. The camera cuts to the hallway of the same apartment building where the AV girl is falling unconsciously on the floor. Then, Shiang-chyi helps the crew move the AV girl to another apartment for film shooting. In the apartment, Hsiao-kang rushing out of the bathroom embarrassedly looks at Shiang-chyi stepping in. They exchange glance through the bathroom mirror. Afterward, the unconscious AV girl wearing bikini is lifted by the crew into the bathroom. The crew tries all means to wake her up, pouring bottled water over her numb body. They adjust her bodily posture from different angles, open her legs wide, and mount camera on her private part. After that, they lift her to the bedroom, laying her body on bed. Meanwhile, Shiang-chyi stands outside the bedroom window, peeping Hsiao-kang and the AV girl through the circular window frame. The composition of the pictures and the mise-en-scene put the three characters into the gaze-desire circuit with the AV girl serving as the substitute for Shiang-chyi in foreplay. As Hsiao-kang is thrusting his body to the unconscious AV girl who is lying on bed with her torso against the wall, we spectators see the two women on both sides of the bedroom wall: Shiang-chyi stands outside, facing the window with her torso leaning forward, while the AV girl is collapsing inside with her back against the wall and her legs sprawled out. Through Tsai’s manipulation of camera and their bodily postures, the two women’s bodies seem conflating as one “across” the wall, with the AV girl’s lower body providing the counterpart of Shiang-chyi’s (Fig. 3.9). While Hsiao-kang is pushing hard into the unconscious doll-like AV girl, he is affectionately looking at Shiang-chyi through the window. As he is coming, Shiang-chyi opens her mouth, gasping and moaning to Hsiao-kang’s tempo. Reaching orgasm, Hsiao-kang leaves the AV girl, rushing to the window and impulsively thrusting his penis through the circular window frame into Shiang-chyi’s mouth (Fig. 3.10). The oral sex through the window lasts for two minutes as Hsiao-kang eventually ejaculates, followed by a close-up on Shiang-chyi’s profiled face with tear drops on the curve of her cheek. The scene from virtual sex to oral sex through mediated bodies and framed perception ends with a view of Shiang-chyi’s back as foreground and Hsiao-kang’s frontal nude visible inside the window (Fig. 3.11).
Fig. 3.9

The Wayward Cloud. Through Tsai’s manipulation of camera and the actresses’ bodily postures, the AV girl’s lower body seems providing the counterpart of Shiang-chyi’s

Fig. 3.10

The Wayward Cloud. Hsiao-kang leaves the AV girl, rushing to the window and impulsively thrusting his penis through the window frame into Shiang-chyi’s mouth

Fig. 3.11

The Wayward Cloud. The scene from virtual sex to oral sex ends with a view of Shiang-chyi’s back as foreground and Hsiao-kang’s frontal nude visible inside the window, with a highlight of sex scene through mediated body and framed perception

Vivian Lee, in her critique of Wayward Cloud , draws our attention to the V-shape composition and spatial pattern: the two women’s wide-open legs in V-shape, the V-shaped public space (underground and tunnel), which at once demarcate and undermine the boundary between the public space and private space, the subject and the object, through “a series of visual mapping, overlapping and mutual displacement.” (Vivian Lee 120). Comparing the two female characters, Lee considers that Shiang-chyi occupies the position of female subject of gaze while the AV girl is put as a passive object of male gaze. In Lee’s opinion, after Shiang-chyi’s oral sex with Hsiao-kang, she has become an active desiring woman while Hsiao-kang has walked out of his framed existence in the porn, changing from an impotent man to a man capable of making love (121). Nevertheless, a more proximate approach to the time-image and the voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit in Tsai’s film is to regard Shiang-chyi and the AV girl as each other’s double with their actual image and virtual image swiftly slipping into each other through the crystalline. As to Hsiao-kang, even as he walks out of the frame of the camera, he can only make love with Shiang-chyi through the window frame. Tsai’s erotica through mediated body and framed perception is the pure opsigns and sonsigns of body, which mocks the break of the sensory-motor link and looks for a position for the body to vanish, turning the body to the medium of image, reincarnating through the voyeuristic gaze-desire circuit from one film to another.

What Time Is It There: Non-chronological Cronos in Taipei or Paris

What Time begins with the daily life of Hsiao-kang’s father who dies soon afterward, and hence, Hsiao-kang has to make a trip transporting his father’s ashes. After his father’s death, as usual, Hsiao-kang continues making living by vending watches on the overpass in front of Taipei Train Station. A passerby, Shiang-chyi, who is about to travel to Paris, inquires Hsiao-kang of a watch displaying dual time zone of both Taipei and Paris. Hsiao-kang tells her that it is out of stock, but Shiang-chyi insists on buying the same kind of watch that Xiao-kang is wearing. The deal inspires Hsiao-kang’s yearning for Paris, which has turned into his obsession with living in “Paris time zone,” that he adjusts the timepieces in Taipei to the time in Paris. For Hsiao-kang, living in Paris time zone might mean escaping from Taipei, from his daily ennui or his frenzy mother caused by his father’s death.

The fantasy of living in Paris time zone results in Hsiao-kang’s weird behaviors no less crazy than his mother’s. He keeps calling to inquire “What time is it there” in Paris and adjusts all the clocks and watches at home to the time in Paris. The fantasy of changing time not only projects his desire to escape from his suffocating family, but also carries him to the non-chronological Cronos (the inner splitting and growing of time), through which he passes to break away from the continuum of heterosexual temporality for a wayward cruise and ride. He even goes to the movie theater, attempting to turn all the clocks there to the time in Paris. Having stolen a clock from the wall, he sits watching movie with the clock hidden underneath his seat. A gay sitting beside him tries in vain to seduce him, gripping his clock and carrying it to restroom. To get the clock back, Hsiao-kang follows the gay to the restroom, opening the cubicle doors one after another in search of him. All of a sudden, a door is open, flashing into view the gay’s naked body with his penis covered by the big clock, waiting for Hsiao-kang to take it off. The frontal shot on a queer body covered by a big clock not only visualizes gay subculture of cruising, but also fleshes out a parody of those frontal portrait of the Saints’ naked body covered with fig leaves in the Western religious paintings. Through the metonymy between time and body, the time-image of body and the body-image of time slip into each other, opening up the non-chronological Cronos, allowing Hsiao-kang to take a flight from the continuum of heterosexual temporality for a time-cruise.

Taipei-Paris Everyday Body, Coexistence of Sheets of Past, Simultaneity of Points of Present

Hsiao-kang’s adjustment of the clocks at home to the time in Paris unexpectedly induces his mother’s fantasy, aggravating her self-indulgence with a reunion with her deceased husband. His mother mistakes the twist of time for the consequence of the return of the father’s ghost. Hereafter, she insists that the family activities should be arranged according to the father’s “schedule,” which is actually Hsiao-kang’s imaginary time in Paris. Subsequently, they have dinner at midnight, with an extra pair of chopsticks on the table for the father, plus his favorite roast duck. His mother seals all the windows with black tapes for fear of disrupting the father’s ghost. Aberrantly, the mother’s invoking of the father’s ghost is not only spiritual, but also carnal; she calls for his spirit and body as well. She looks for his body through the crawling cockroaches or the large Arowana fish swimming in the fish tank. Most bizarre of all, even the father’s everyday body has already vanished through the funeral ceremony; the mother still seriously prepares for the “wedding night” across the boundary between the living and the deceased. She lights a pair of candles in front of the father’s funeral portrait, puts on her Chinese Qipao, and lies on bed, whispering intimately to the father’s portrait and masturbating with a cane head.

Hsiao-kang’s mother and the deceased father’s “intercourse” has been enacted with the mother’s ceremonial body during the father’s absence. Paradoxically, though the mother changes the family time to the father’s time (or Hsiao-kang’s imaginary time), the father’s everyday body does not show up at home, but appears in the Tuileries Park in Paris, where he has never been. The father passes by the lesbian, Shiang-chyi, who has been in sleep on a bench, unaware of his existence. Why is the deceased father appearing in Paris? If we view this scene diachronically, we might say that the father’s figure is his ghost (Chi-she Li 2004: 94). However, different from generic convention which renders ghost’s appearance with thrilling music, fade-in and fade-out, dissolve, dim light or the character’s scary expression, the appearance of the deceased father here is filmed with Tsai’s stylistic signature of “hyperbolic realism,” a term used by Chris Berry as he observes that Tsai’s realist cinema, engaged with self-reflexivity, “performs its realism so excessively as to draw attention to itself, making it a limit-case realism.”5

Through a series of shot-reverse-shots, first we see Shiang-chyi asleep on the bench from her back, then the alternate shot cuts to Shiang-chyi’s luggage floating from the left to the right rim of the pond. Soon a reverse shot on the left captures Hsiao-kang’s father in black coat walking from the left toward the pond, digging his umbrella into the water to lift up her luggage. In regard to the deceased father’s appearance, we can take a more daring approach to insert the father’s body-image into what Deleuze calls “false narrative” to analyze how the time-image has been revealed in the dialectical relationship between body and time. In the false narrative, the moment when the father is dying is the “crystalline seed.”6 The crystalline seed is the entrance of time which opens up the double movements: one is to launch toward a future, creating this future and bursting into life; the other is to fall back to the past, going to death. Through the ceremony of death, the father’s everyday body passing through the crystalline at once exists in two different dimensions with the double movements of time that simultaneously fall back into the past and launch toward the future: on the one hand, he is the deceased father disappearing from Hsiao-kang’s home and Taipei time zone (Hsiao-kang and the mother’s empirical time); on the other hand, he appears as another man (“I” is another) in Paris time zone (Hsiao-kang’s imaginary time; Shiang-chyi and Jean-Pierre’s empirical time), taking a walk in the park.

At the end of the film, Hsiao-kang’s father walks toward the Ferris wheel at the Concorde which is reminiscent of a gigantic clock, as if the father’s fatigue everyday body is entering the crystalline again. The father’s crystal image calls into mind Deleuze’s contemplation of time:

The only subjectivity is time, non-chronological time grasped in its foundation, and it is we who are internal to it, not the other way round. That we are in time looks like a commonplace, yet it is the highest paradox. Time is not the interior in us, but just the opposite, the interiority in which we are, in which we move, live and change. (2: 28)

What Deleuze calls “the paradoxical commonplace” is seen in Tuileries Park and Montmartre Cemetery where Hsiao-kang’s father and Jean-Pierre move, live and change in the interiority of time.

As aforementioned, Tsai’s presentation of Taipei-Paris everyday body not only reveals the durée of the daily attitudes and postures of the body through camera lens, but also captures the crystalline through which the everyday body and the ceremonial body exchange with each other, intricately interweaving the false narrative of “I is another.” In Tsai’s film, Tuileries Park and Montmartre Cemetery are characteristic of the abstraction of space. Kristin Marriott Jones notes Benoît Delhomme, the director of photography, recalling Tsai’s manipulation of space in his film, “Ming-liang was only interested in interior settings (hotels, bars) and underground ones (the metro). He didn’t want the audience to know right away what city we were in.” Jones further points out, “Tsai strives to minimize the contrast between the Paris and Taipei sequences. As a result, the two settings haunt the imagination not only with their abstract beauty but also with their ‘near-placelessness’” (Kristin Marriott Jones 2002: 76). The abstract space with “near-placelessness” is resonating to Deleuzian “any-space- whatevers” (espace quelconque) (1: 109). Deleuze defines “any-space- whatevers” based on the concepts of “disconnection” and “emptiness”: it is the space abstracted from spatiotemporal coordinates, beyond the symbolic and the imaginary realms; its “linking up and orientation are not determined in advance, and can be done in an infinite number of ways” (1: 120). Chang Hsiao-hung further notes, the indiscernibility of “any-space-whatevers” comes from the indiscernible rapid interchange and slipping between the actual and the virtual; the multiple layers of imagery caused by territorializaton, deterritorialization and reterritorialization (Hsiao-hung Chang 2007: 145).

In the indiscernible “any-space- whatevers” of Montmartre Cemetery, Tsai Ming-liang-Francois Truffaut time-image reveals the coexistence of sheets of past with multiple layers of virtual and actual images slipping into each other. Paying tribute to Truffaut’s 400 Blows , Tsai invites Jean-Pierre who played Antoine Doinel in 400 Blows in 1959 to play an old man in Paris now. Similar to Lee Kang-sheng who has recurrently appeared in Tsai’s nine films, Jean-Pierre has repeatedly performed in five of Truffaut’s films. During the filming of What Time, Jean-Pierre inquired Tsai about his role and scripts, but Tsai did not give him any definite answer. Not until a couple of months later had Jean-Pierre realized that Tsai only wanted him to be himself. He had only one line in What Time as he sat on the bench, handing his name card and introducing himself to a stranger, Shiang-chyi, “I am Jean-Pierre.” Even the setting of Montmartre Cemetery was decided by Jean-Pierre just because he lived in the neighborhood in waking distance. Coincidentally, Montmartre Cemetery is also the location of Truffaut’s tomb (Michelle E. Bloom 2005: 321). The intertextuality between the two films brings out the time-image and the theatricality of Taipei-Paris everyday body. In addition to capturing Jean-Pierre’s aging everyday body in the park, Tsai inserts a sequence of 400 Blows into his film, presenting Jean-Pierre’s childhood image. In an earlier scene, Hsiao-kang aspires to “live” in his imaginary time in Paris that he randomly picks up a video tape of 400 Blows from the video rental shop. Afterward, we see Hsiao-kang lying on bed, watching the boy Antoine Doinel played by then young Jean-Pierre. Antoine was riding the gravitron together with Truffaut in a cameo appearance. Michelle Bloom observes the interesting connection between Hsiao-kang and Antoine:

Extending the parallels between Hsiao Kang watching the Rotor Sequence and Doinel in it, physically, Hsiao Kang’s spread legs provide a lower body counterpart and mirror of Antoine Doinel’s arms reaching out horizontally in one of the many positions—rightside up and upside down—that the boy assumes while spinning around the gravitron. (Bloom: 319)

The overlap of Hsiao-kang’s and Antoine’s bodies, Truffaut’s cameo role, and the gravitron as a symbol of time; all these elements connect Hsiao-kang-Antoine, Lee Kang-sheng-Jean-Pierre, and Francois Truffaut-Tsai Ming-liang. Most paradoxically, when Hsiao-kang tries to imagine “the present” of Paris through the image of the young boy, Antoine, played by Jean-Pierre in 1959, Jean-Pierre has already aged into an old man, sitting side by side with Shiang-chyi in Montmartre Cemetery. As spectators, we look at the young boy Jean-Pierre animated by Hsiao-kang’s video playing, as if the little boy is still living and moving in the interiority of time. Extending the parallel between the young and the old Jean-Pierre through the intertextuality between Tsai and Truffaut, we see his everyday body in different stages of his life preserved in the coexistence of sheets of past as well as “returning” to the “future” from his past.

The gravitron in 400 Blows , in Anne Gillan’s opinion, is “the most beautiful metaphor for film in Truffaut’s work” (Gillain 1991: 274; Bloom: 319). The gravitron and the Ferris wheel in the two films not only serve as the symbol of time, but also connotes the spinning reel of film where the non-professional actors’ everyday body reincarnates from one film to another. The gravitron and the Ferris wheel arousing Tsai’s great interest is the crystalline of the time-image in What Time, bursting into the crystal image for the intertextuality between Truffaut’s and Tsai’s film.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone: Mattress, Bruised Eye, and the Ruin

Sleep Alone is the first film shot by Tsai on the location in his mother country, Malaysia. In a press conference held in The Venice Film Festival in September, 2006, Tsai spoke of the meaning of the Chinese title of the film, 《黑眼圈》( Bruised Eye ): the bruised eye and the mattress in the film alluded to the scandal of former Malaysian Vice Premier, Anwar Ibrahim, in 1998,7 through which Tsai attempted to compel the film spectators to look back at Asian people who had suffered from the economic crisis in 1997 (Chi-chung Yung and Jo-yun Lee 2008: 28). Though Tsai recalled how the mattress and bruised eye had inspired his imagination in creating the story of Sleep Alone, he was less interested in creating a national allegory of political desire than creating a political allegory of private desire. The mattress carrying three queer bodies, Hsiao-kang, Rawang, and Shiang-chyi, and the bruised or puffy eye caused by violence or insomnia connote the sleepless nights and the endless waiting. In an interview, Tsai has it:

Sleep Alone is themed with pursuing freedom or breaking away from imprisonment. Comparatively, if you see someone enjoying more freedom than you, you realize that you are not free. Lee Kang-sheng’s double casting is significant. The homeless he plays is nobody who comes and goes to his like while anybody can do anything to him. The vegetable man he plays seems imprisoned; however, nobody knows what is in his mind. Maybe he is that one with the most freedom. (Yung and Lee 20)

In Sleep Alone, the unidentifiable migrant workers and homeless drift along the ghettos, construction sites, and alleys in modern cities, which, according to Lim Kien-ket, are reminiscent of “the metaphors of the Bible and the ruins in the wilderness, permeated with mysterious apocalyptical atmosphere” (Kien-ket Lim 2002: 43). Lim further wonders,

[These drifters] come to the ruins while their birth seems originating from the untraceable former life when something was lingering there. When did they come? Who are they? Why do they only remember the ruins and nothing else? Why do they only remember the future but not the past? (43)

In Tsai’s films, Tsai tends to use the unfinished construction sites and the city ruins as setting where “the everyday men have been drifting, questing, and role-playing with self-reflexivity” (Ivy I-chu Chang 2002: 80). On the other hand, Tsai has used his camera to record “the durée of the real space of modern cities turned into ruins or disappearing” (Chang Hsiao-hung 142), which has been attested by Tsai’s shooting Sleep Alone on the location of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tsai recalls how he found the gigantic ruins,

We found a very special scene near the historical site of Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur. It is a massive deserted construction site. In the ‘90s, a great number of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers mushroomed as the consequence of economic growth of Malaysia, including the Twin Towers which was then the highest architecture in the world. However, turning to the late ‘90s, a great number of buildings were left unfinished due to the economic recess in Asia. As a result, numerous migrant workers from other countries have been stranded in Malaysia, of whom most have become illegal labors hiding and drifting here and there. This abandoned construction site near Pudu Jail looked like a huge monster…. The interior of the unfinished building looked as magnificent as a postmodern opera house. (Tsai, “Director’s Notes” 2006)

The “postmodern opera house” in Tsai’s eyes inspired him who had been preoccupied with making a film in memory of Mozart.8 In particular, the pond in the courtyard seemed so poetic and stunning to Tsai that he thought he heard Mozart’s music rising up from the ruin. Tsai was struck by an epiphany, “The pond of dark water was seen among the run-down courtyard; it was unfathomably deep (maybe caused by rain or flood). Mozart’s Magic Flute occurred to me. The pond of dark water also reminded me of Bei-dao’s (北島) poem, ‘We have not lost memory/we quest for the lake of life’” (Tsai, “Director’s Notes”). The dark pond in the courtyard of the “postmodern opera house” becomes what Tsai calls “the lake of life,” theatricalizing the migrant workers’ everyday body and rendering the motifs of calamities, oblivions and quest.

The Ruin of the Opera House, the Musical Body and Queer Affect

The ruin of the “postmodern opera house,” calling into mind Mozart’s music and Bei-dao’s poem, is Deleuzian “any-space-whatevers” that goes beyond the symbolic and the imaginary realms and crystalizes multifaceted layers of imagery vacillating between the actual and the virtual, opening up potentially infinite sets of combinations for new dimensionalities. The ruin with the pond could be the camping site for Hsiao-kang and Rawang to sleep together; the shelter for Hsiao-kang and Shiang-chyi to hide from the smog to make love; the lake for Hsiao-kang and Rawang to go fishing. In the fishing scene, amidst the bluish mist is looming the sublime ruin with the glistening dark blue “lake” (Fig. 3.12). The emperor moth on their shoulders alludes to the butterfly in the fable of Chuang Chou who dreams of becoming a butterfly,9 which implies Hsiang-kang and the vegetable man’s mysterious connection (Tsai, “Director’s Notes”): they might be each other’s double living in different dimensions of the world.
Fig. 3.12

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone. In the fishing scene, amidst the mist are looming the massive ruin by the “lake”. The emperor moth on their shoulders alludes to the butterfly in the fable about Chuang Chou

In the end of the film, Hsiao-kang, Rawang, and Shiang-chyi sleep together on a huge mattress floating on the shimmering lake. The drifting mattress looks like a huge greenish-white jellyfish glowing under the dark blue light (Fig. 3.13). Like Noah’s ark, the mattress sails slowly from the top left corner of the screen to the center, tinged with religious tranquility. The three queer bodies on the mattress seem floating on the lake of life in quest of the lost memory. Through Tsai’s camera lens, the deterritorialized bodies accompanied with Li Hsiang-lan’s “Heart Song” of the 1950s were turned into the opsign and sonsign enacting queer affect.
Fig. 3.13

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone. The three queer bodies on the floating mattress on the lake were turned into the opsign and sonsign enacting queer affect

Sing Song-yong draws our attention to the three images of the pond and the ruin:

Looming in the mist and the dark blue light is the broken wall with the bed shielded by mosquito net, which is a site of endless waiting in vain for something to happen; the whirling moth and the human figures fishing by the unfathomable lake enact a stunning and indecipherable micro movement/event; even the floating mattress is a site in suspense for à-venir. (Sing 2007: 51)

For Sing, the three images of the ruin with the pond are “a new form of visual figuration and plastique” (51) that serves as both durée and interface. In other words, the three images could be viewed either as a set of images diegetically connecting different scenes, or as three independent non-diegetical images that serve as sound/image installation of contemporary arts (51).

Paralleled with the obsolete space is the vegetable man’s (also played by Lee Kang-sheng) obsolete body. In the film, the vegetable man’s appearance has always been accompanied with various kinds of music. The film begins with Mozart’s Magic Flute and the fade-in of the vegetable man’s face in total darkness. Shiang-chyi, the helper of the tearoom, is feeding the vegetable man with a nasal-gastric tube. With the aria of Magic Flute , “The vengeance of hell boils in my heart,” sung by coloratura soprano, the vegetable man breathes hard with his mouth open, as if he is trying to resist, with his motionless body, the death vocalized by the soprano. The vegetable man’s body is like a revealer of music as well as the passage of time. His body is what Deleuze calls a “musical body” or a “ceremonial body” (2: 192) that has reached the point of “non-desire” (2: 191). To note Deleuze, “What freed from non-desire is music and speech; their intertwining is a body which is now only sound, a body of new opera. Even aphasia then becomes noble and musical language” (2: 191). Through Mozart’s music and the daily ritual of anointment, the ceremonial body of the vegetable man has reached the point where he seems looking for the best position to die in. Furthermore, Mozart’s music seems lifting his ceremonial body from his personal memory to the unnamable déja-la world memory and affect.

Similar to the above-mentioned three images of the ruin with the pond, the big close-up on the vegetable man’s face accompanied with the music of Mozart and Lee Hsiang-lan could be regarded as “affection-image.”10 In Deleuze’s term, what the affection-image concerns is not “affection” but “affects” that are impersonal. Affects are not “individuated like people and things… They have singularities which enter into virtual conjunction and each time constitute a complex entity” (1: 103). The affection-image is related to the state of the things “expressed for themselves, outside spatio-temporal co-ordinates, with their own ideal singularities and their virtual conjunction” (1: 102). On the other hand, though affect is independent of all determinate space-time, it is created by the work of art in relation to the time-space produced by the work of art (1: 99). In Sleep Alone, the affection-image of the three queer bodies hanging around the ruin or the big close-up of the vegetable man is a complex entity: they are the figuration and plastique crystalizing queer affect. They have been abstracted from the spatiotemporal coordinates, opening up infinite virtual time and space. They are the crystalline from which the characters enter the interior of time, and, through the inner splitting and growing of time, they are either connected to the deja-la world memory or even turned into the false narrative of “I is another.”

As a matter of fact, the music in Sleep Alone has two folds of significance: on the one hand, it serves as the “feeling thing” (the entity of deterritorialization specific to affection-image) (1: 96) that detaches the three queer bodies hanging around the ruin or the vegetable man on bed from their surroundings; on the other hand, it serves as the signifying process in representation. A great variety of ethnic music, regional opera and folk songs connects the fatigue bodies of those drifting migrant workers to the collective memories of different ethnic groups. Compared to Tsai’s other films with minimalist dialogues and music,11 the sounds and background music in Sleep Alone are rich and diverse. The songs dubbing the shots on those migrant workers eating, drinking, sitting, squatting and working include mandarin pop songs, Cantonese opera, Indian and Malaysian folk songs.12 In certain scenes, these songs are used as “soundscape,” connecting the abstract city space in Tsai’s film with the ethnic memories of Malaysians, Chinese, and Indians. Moreover, these songs intricately orchestrate the heteroglossia, vocalizing the inner feeling of those silent migrant workers, coolies and homeless who come and go like shadows. The multi-lingual enunciations inter-relate the multi-ethnic memories and transnational soundscape, accompanying those roaming fatigue bodies across the borders, layering the topological coexistence of sheets of past.

Who in Whose Dream? “I” Is Another

The mysterious connection between Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man has been implied by Lee Kang-sheng’s double cast of both roles, which is manifested by Tsai in “Director’s Notes”:

Hsiao-kang recovering from his coma has relationships with Rawang and Shiang-chyi at the same time…. Like an Emperor moth, he might fly away anytime. The seductive middle-aged tearoom hostess desiring for Hsiao-kang’s youthful body finds that he looks more and more like her own son, the vegetable man… (Tsai, “Director’s Notes”)

Their mysterious connection is initiated with the ambiguous beginning scenes of the film. Following the big close-up on the vegetable man accompanied by Mozart’s music, an alternate shot shows an unknown figure beaten by gangsters. Then a long shot on the graffiti-wall of Putu Jail portrays a man staggering and falling onto the ground. Rawang and a couple of migrant workers lifting a mattress pass by the wall. They soon walk off-scene except for Rawang who stays to help the man lying on the ground. Following this scene are two sequences intercutting with each other: a sequence delineates Rawang tenderly taking care of Hsiao-kang who has recovered from coma day by day. The other sequence captures the tearoom hostess and Shiang-chyi washing, massaging, and feeding the vegetable man; they put cream on his motionless body while he seems always waiting and staring somewhere with his wide-open eyes.

Robin Wood indicates, the moment when someone is falling and then saved in front of Putu Jail is the critical moment for the diegesis of the film. The long shot and the ambiguity of the scene make it hard for the spectators to tell if it happens in reality, dream, or reflection. In Wood’s opinion, the indiscernibility between the actual and the virtual implies that Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man are each other’s alter ego. The close-up on the vegetable man followed by Hsiao-kang’s staggering and falling, together with the blurred line between reality and virtuality throughout the films’ diegesis, provides a hint that what had happened to Hisao-kang is actually a dream by the vegetable man: the vegetable man dreams of his alter ego (Robin Wood 2008: 49). Furthermore, Wood argues, if they are each other’s alter ego, the later scenes, where the vegetable man’s mother ecstatically makes love with Hsiao-kang and then the mother helps her vegetable son masturbate, suggest the vegetable man’s incest with his mother in his own dream (49). In this case, the mother-son incest in the vegetable man’s dream is even more ambiguous and enigmatic than the father-son incest in the sauna in River.

We can even take a more daring approach to put these scenes in Deleuzian false narrative of “I is another,” regarding the critical moment of the ambiguous beginning scene as the “Cronos” bursting into the simultaneity of points of present, in which the true and the false are indiscernible and the same event simultaneously has happened and has not happened (the one beaten by the gangsters has become a vegetable man; the one beaten by the gangsters has not become a vegetable man); the same person appears differently in two dimensions of the world (the man appears as Hsiao-kang who has been taken care of by Rawang and then involved in the complex relationships with Rawang, Shiang-chyi and the tearoom hostess; the man appears as the vegetable man taken care of by his mother and Shiang-chyi); “I is another” (Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man are the one who exists in two different dimensions of the world).

Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man’s mysterious connection has been reinforced by the fact that Shiang-chyi and the tearoom hostess change their attitude toward the vegetable man in correspondence with their changing relationship with Hsiao-kang. When Shiang-chyi is carrying the soup to the vegetable man, Hsiao-kang stops her at the corner, drinking the soup and putting a Fluorescence flower on her tray as a gift. Infatuated with Hsiao-kang, Shiang-chyi becomes much gentler in her routine washing and massage for the vegetable man. Even before she puts cream over his body, she let him sniff, as if to share the fragrance of her love with him. No less impulsive than Shiang-chyi, the tearoom hostess even transfers her revived sensation and desire to her son in a more impetuous way. After the tearoom was closed, she hides waiting in the dark alley where Hsiao-kang passes by. She pulls him toward her, heatedly making love with him. After that, she urgently transfers her re-kindled lust to her son. On the next day, when Shiang-chyi is massaging her, the hostess suddenly grabs Shiang-chyi’s hand, smearing cream on her palm. She drags Shiang-chyi toward her vegetable son, grasping Shiang-chyi’s hand and forcing her to help her vegetable son “masturbate.” It seems as if by doing so she can transfer her resurrected fertility to her futile son.

No matter who lives in whose dream, or who exists in two different dimensions of the world, Hisao-kang and the vegetable man’s being each other’s double culminates as they gaze at each other through the hole of Shiang-chyi’s floor, with Hsiao-kang upstairs and the vegetable man downstairs. In total darkness, a light beam penetrating the hole spots on both faces. In the upstairs room, the camera presses closer to the peeping Hsiao-kang’s profiled face leaning against the floor, from a medium shot, then a close-up, to a big close-up, followed by a reverse shot on downstairs with a big close-up on the vegetable man’s face flashed out of the darkness by the blue light beam. The two men with like face are gazing at each other through the hole as if scrutinizing another dimension of their own lives. At the end of the film, their mysterious connection is reinforced once more: preceding the scene of the three queer bodies lying on the floating mattress on the lake is the big close-up of the vegetable man’s face. Wearing a makeshift to filter the smog, he blankly looks upward as if anticipating something to happen. Then the camera cuts to the mattress carrying Hsiao-kang, Rawang, and Shiang-chyi on the lake. In particular, Hsiao-kang seems looking for something from the lake of life—maybe the lost memory; maybe the memory of another dimension of his life.

The enactment of queer affect is made palpable through the optsign and sonsign of queer bodies with the ruin of “the post-modern opera house” transformed into any-space-whatevers. The queer affection-image complexly functions as durée and interface, as figuration and plastique. Dubbing the trans-spatial and trans-temporal music, the queer affection-image has been connected with the off-field, extended to the deja-la world memory or the event à-venir. Furthermore, the ambiguity and the indiscernibility between Hsiao-kang and the vegetable man intricately interweave the false narrative of “I is another,” vacillating back and forth the coexistence of sheets of past and the simultaneity of points of present, reminiscent of the memory in the future and another dimension of “I” in an upcoming world.


In the aforementioned three films, Tsai captures the durée (and the “before” and the “after”) of the characters/non-professional actors’ everyday bodily attitudes and postures through his camera lens; on the other hand, he crisscrosses various generic conventions and visual imagery to juxtaposes the everyday body and the ceremonial body that swiftly interchange with and slip into each other through the non-chronological time, “Cronos,” bringing about potentially infinite sets of virtual conjunctions, opening up the possibility for new complex entities. In The Wayward Cloud , the hyperbolic musical sequences crisscross various cinematic genres while infiltrating them with queer desire, enacting queer performativity as a parody to expose the imitative structure of the male/female binarism. The pornographic film-within-the-film through “mediated-body” and “framed perception” turns the body into the pure opsigns and sonsigns via a series of visual mapping, overlapping and substitutions, exposing the phantasmatic status of body. In What Time Is It There , with filmic strategies of dechronologization and deterritorialization, as well as the metonymy between body and time, Tsai presents the Taipei-Paris everyday bodies and Tsai Ming-Liang-François Truffaut cinematic memory via the intertextuality between his and Truffaut’s films. In I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone , Tsai transforms the ruin in Kuala Lumpur to any-space-whatevers to make palpable the complex entity and infinite virtual conjunctions of affection-images, which serve as durée, interface, and trans-image in crystallizing the false narrative of “I is another” connected to queer affect and the déjà-la world memory.


  1. 1.

    For Tsai Ming-liang’s films and award records, see Appendix D.

  2. 2.

    In this chapter, the citations of Gilles Deleuze are from his monographs, Cinema 1: The Movement Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, which will be, respectively, referred as 1 or 2.

  3. 3.

    Deleuze’s concept of “false narrative” seeks recourse to Nietzsche’s notion of “the power of false” paralleled with the power of creation. Nietzsche formulates a chain of forgers including politicians, religious, guardian… All of them are related to “the power of false.” Of the chain of the forgers, the first one is “the truthful man” who has to rely on others, while the last one is the artist who is a forger and creator, the ultimate of the power of false. Nietzsche also relates these forgers to the will-to-power. He notes that the will-to-power can be seen in two extreme forms of life: On the one end, it is will-to-take-over and the will-to-dominate; on the other end, it is the will-to-becoming and metamorphosis. What the artist pursues is not the fixed form of the ontological truth or goodness, but becoming and metamorphosis. With the will-to-power, the artist could be the creator of the truth. See Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 160–90.

  4. 4.

    Tsai Ming-liang was invited by the author to give a lecture on Wayward Cloud at National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, on March 23, 2005. He addressed the issues of porn in his talk.

  5. 5.

    Chris Berry uses the term “hyperbolic realism” to describe Tsai’s film. In Berry’s opinion, Tsai’s realism is characteristic of self-reflexivity which excessively equips Tsai’s film with his strong personal style, but it also limits the representation of Tsai’s film to a certain extent. See Berry, “Where is the Love? Hyperbolic Realism and Indulgence in Vive L’Amour ,” 91.

  6. 6.

    In Deleuze’s term, what we see in the crystal is time. The crystalline seed is the smallest bit and the entrance of time. Time in crystal is differentiated into two movements: one is to launch itself towards a future, creating this future and bursting into life. Another one is falling back to the past and going to death. See Deleuze (2: 88–93). The double movements depend on the success or failure of the crystalline seed. There is a homogeneity of seed and crystal. The Whole of the crystal is no more than a greater seed in the process of growth. But other differences are introduced, in so far as the crystal is an ordered set, some seeds abort and others are successful; certain entrances close again and others open. See Deleuze (2: 90).

  7. 7.

    In 1998, Malaysian Vice Premiere Anwar Ibrahim was dismissed by Prime Minister Mahathir during their political struggle. He was later arrested with the charge of bribery and sodomy. During the trial, the inspector beaten Anwar, causing his bruised eye. The mattress used as an evidence of Anwar’s sodomy was moved in and out of the court. As a result, Anwar’s bruised eye and the mattress became a laughing stock in international news, inspiring Tsai to write the story for his film. See (Chi-chung Yung and Jo-yun Lee 28).

  8. 8.

    In 2006, in the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birthday, New Crowned Hope Foundation was established in Austria. In memory of Mozart, it granted six films related to Mozart in different countries, including Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Iran, Tchad, and Paraguay, among which is Sleep Alone. See (Yung and Lee 49).

  9. 9.

    A Chinese philosopher, Chuang Chou, dreamed of himself becoming a butterfly. After he woke up, he found himself remain the same person. Then he asks himself, “Which one is real me? Am I Chuang Chou who dream of becoming a butterfly, or am I a butterfly becoming Chuang Chou in a dream?”

  10. 10.

    In Deleuze’s term, the “affection-image” is related to “affect” instead of “affection.” Deleuze exemplifies “affection-image” with the close-up, but it is not limited by the close-up. He distinguishes “affection-image” from “movement-image” (or “action-image), as the former is related to the states of the things expressed for themselves, outside spatiotemporal coordinates, with the things’ ideal singularities and virtual conjunction while the latter connects with a particular space-time, particular characters, particular objects. See Deleuze (1: 102–103).

  11. 11.

    Influenced by French New Wave Cinema, Tsai minimizes background music in his films in order not to involve the spectators in the structure of feeling pre-set by the director. See Chang, Ivy I-chu, Global Time-Space, Bodies and Memory: Taiwan New Cinema and Its Influence, 153.

  12. 12.

    The songs dubbing Sleep Alone include Mozart’s Magic Flute ; Malaysian song, “Lagu Tiga Kupang”; Indian songs, “Gunddu Malli” and “Oru Vaarthai Ketka”; Cantonese song, “The Ecstatic Monk in the Blue Ocean,” Mandarin Song, “New Peach Blossom River,” “If Only We Met Before I Married,” and “Heart song.” See (Chi-chung Yung and Jo-yun Lee 35–36).

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ivy I-chu Chang
    • 1
  1. 1.National Chiao Tung UniversityHsinchuTaiwan

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