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Film Review: Days

13 October 20 words: Daniel Turner

Daniel Turner reviews the 11th feature film from Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang following its UK debut at the 2020 London Film Festival...

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Starring: Lee Kang-sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy
Running time: 127 minutes

The film opens with Lee Kang-Sheng’s Kang sat alone in an armchair, a glass of water atop the wooden table by his side. He stares forward, past us, looking out of a window the reflection of which faintly covers his image. A storm rages, the wind howls and swirls the trees, rain splatters and splashes and for five minutes we have the opportunity to embrace this space, to live in this atmosphere and to let our minds wander. We are in the unmistakable world of Taiwanese master filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang.

Days perhaps more so than any other previous Tsai film seems to elevate seemingly simple patterns of existence to something hymnal and transcendent. It is preoccupied - as much of Tsai’s work is - with the rhythm of the human body. In the hands of Tsai, a young man Non (Anong Houngheuangsy) meticulously washing vegetables before cooking becomes rhythmic almost dance-like. The use of colour in such a scene is a concrete animus to those who would simplify such scenes as mere observation. The pale blue wall, the subtle light, the red plastic bowl contrasting with the bright green vegetables, even the pastel pink shorts Non wears, all are carefully constructed. The use of colour in some ways reminds of the masterful use of colour in the late films of Yasujiro Ozu, although the purpose here is not so much to orient us within space as to enrich the images within which we are encouraged to let our eyes and minds wander.

Fundamentally, Days is a difficult film to quantify particularly in the context of a brief review, not least because after a solitary viewing it is clear that like all of Tsai’s work it is a film that will only grow in my estimation with each passing day and each subsequent viewing.

There is perhaps no more vital an artistic voice for our times than that of Tsai Ming-liang

Tsai’s films as much as anything else trace the evolution of the human body, largely through the continuous presence of Lee Kang-Sheng who delivers a subtle heart-breaking performance. Lee has been a part of nearly all of Tsai’s films tracing all the way back to Tsai’s debut feature Rebels of the Neon God in 1992, we have seen his body evolve and age over the past twenty-eight years and now in Days it seems we are witnessing time catching up with him physically.

In Kang’s long and painful search for physical relief and in Non the young man with whom he seemingly finds it. Tsai as he has done throughout his entire life’s work, reminds us once again of the preeminent, unwavering and immeasurable importance of meaningful human connection. In a year such as this one, it would seem there is perhaps no more vital an artistic voice for our times than that of Tsai Ming-liang.

Tsai is a filmmaker who has long been attuned to the rhythms, anxieties and yearnings of disconnected and distanced individuals in highly compressed and connected societies. Tsai once stated that he wanted his films “to be like the moon, a beautiful flower, a gurgling stream. I want them to be there without any particular context. I want them to be seen and experienced.” 

Days is yet another stunning example of Tsai’s singular approach to the medium of cinema and the immense depths of emotion and contemplation that such work can provoke in any viewer prepared to open themselves to such experiences.

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