I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone
2006Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Cast: Chen Shiang-chyi, Norman Bin Atun, Lee Kang-sheng
f (as is not necessarily the case) What Time is it There? was inspired by The 400 Blows, Goodbye, Dragon Inn was inspired by Dragon Inn, and The Wayward Cloud was inspired by Annie Hall, then, to fit the clause, Tsai Ming-Liang’s latest can really only be said to be inspired by the films of Tsai Ming-Liang—which is to say, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone is pretty uninspired. Tsai’s alienated characters, so alone that they have nobody to declare any personality to, have always tended toward the comatose, as (for some) have his long and static compositions. Here, they are: Tsai has split up his regular alter-ego Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng) into two men, the first of whom is beaten up at the start of the film and spends the rest of it trying to sleep off the pain, and the other of whom is, in fact, in a coma. Really, they’re less characters than figures, which isn’t atypical for Tsai, though usually these guys work like variables in some failed equation that doesn’t lead to fulfillment—they could be anyone, or rather anyone unhappy looking for impossible love.
This time around there are a few standard Tsai scenes in which the figures cruise the streets, gradually drifting together like two streams until they start fucking, and there’s another wearisome natural disaster looming, this time in the smog as restaurant patrons use paper bowls for masks (Tsai’s characteristic idea of great sex is stripping a girl of her gas mask as she gasps for air—for the wrong reasons—and then not having sex). These are the highlights. Mostly, for the bulk of the film, the figures are trying to sleep wherever and whenever they can; the implicit subtitle to the film is “But I Do Want to Pass Out.”
Kuala Lumpar is far dirtier than the quite squalid Taipei of Tsai’s previous seven features—urine and graffiti run over the walls and floor of the film’s primary apartment—and thus unconsciousness seems both attractive and unavoidable. So it is that the last shot, not to be described here, is for better and for worse something of a dream come true—whereas similar endings in The Hole and What Time is it There? debunk all presumptions of the world so patiently observed, here it simply negates the quiet storm of the previous two hours like a precious rainbow. It’s like those endings where a character wakes up to find out it’s just been a dream all along—except that here they fall asleep to ostensibly the same conclusion. Some dream!
As overrated as The Wayward Cloud was underrated, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone has thin colors, a flooded skeleton of a coliseum, and, well, little else—but the good news, in any case, is that this is a Tsai Ming-Liang film, whatever the pasty shades. A writer of varying quality, Tsai is one of the greatest directors working today, and his latest, like every feature he’s directed since The River, finds him at a directing peak. In a superb piece on the director, the great critic Adrian Martin refers to the director’s alienation-via-atomization: not just characters, but entire scenes stand apart from one another, connected only by the spectator’s imagination and desire to bring the story to some fulfillment. Tsai’s greatness largely resides in the way his scenes do and do not connect, and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone may be the best proof: his long shots allow one to get so accustomed to a space and location that when Tsai returns to the exact same space from an entirely different angle, the effect is so alienating that it may take a couple minutes to realize this is even the same place.
But while his images are static, his sounds (often coming from the liquids seeping through most of his scenes) are fluid, dissolved into one another, giving a musical pacing to the piece. Commissioned for the New Crowned Hope Festival to commemorate Mozart’s 250th birthday, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone opens and closes with strains of “The Magic Flute” accompanying the unconscious; Tsai has perhaps come up with his finest musical (sonically) here, one that captures his love of water, of drifters, and of the languid drifting of water down a stream or a river (as in The River) in its sounds alone. Climaxes happen casually, as, in one scene, a woman in the background is slapped as the Mozart crescendos, and Tsai breaks to the ripping waves of water under a bridge in—as sounds go—ravaging contrast, turning the sound so high that a meeting between two people is turned, as always in Tsai, silent.
Then again, the problem at this point may just be that Tsai needs to get over his own performing figures’ silence—though they may be nothing but bodies, a scream, laugh, or gasp could go a long way toward breaking the Kim Ki-Duk gimmicky cuteness Tsai seems to be drifting toward. While his longueurs are better suited for romantic longing than the pop confections of Wong Kar-Wai, one day Tsai’s figures might actually find something that allows them to express feeling—any feeling!—instead of finding themselves, ultimately, in another simple-minded fantasy of Tsai, like game pieces on a board. In the meantime, hopefully they’ll just find themselves in a more clever fantasy—and until then, there’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s wondrous Syndromes and a Century for a fix of architectural Mozart-inspired cinema about bifurcated semi-comatose identities, and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s equally experimental 28 Weeks Later, for those who need to watch zombies against a smoggy apocalypse.
I Don´t Want to Sleep Alone is currently in limited release.
By: David Pratt-Robson
Published on: 2007-05-22