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Double Bill: Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng

MUBI Special

Collaborations between filmmakers and actors have captured the imagination of audiences since the birth of cinema, from D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish, to Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, and Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Rarely does a director’s sensibility match up with the expressions of a performer as well as Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-sheng, whose partnership has lasted for over 30 years.

Tsai, a transcendent arthouse auteur who has won awards at nearly every major film festival, operates in a cinema of poetic solitude, capturing the anomie of modern Taiwan with a breathtakingly beautiful and often absurdist lens. Lee has inspired the director’s rhythmic disposition and yearning with a powerfully physical and measured style that has slowed down and intensified in recent years.

Presented in this double bill are two of the duo’s early standouts, Vive L’amour and The River. Vive L’amour is is a three-fold tale of urban alienation in the vein of Antonioni, steeped in an eroticism that is led by Lee’s sense of quiet longing. The River sees the actor apply his deadpan style to Tsai’s bleak and metaphysical vision of the nuclear family. Made immediately after their joint debut feature, Rebels of the Neon God, these two films are cornerstones of one of the most influential and deeply moving partnerships in international cinema.

Vive l'amour

Tsai Ming-liang Taiwan, 1994

Golden Lion-winner Vive l’amour, with its contemplative, humorous, and tenderly melancholic style, made Tsai Ming-liang one of the world’s most important directors. Equally essential are Lee Kang-sheng and Yang Kuei-mei, whose presences exquisitely personify urban loneliness, yearning, and desire.

The River

Tsai Ming-liang Taiwan, 1997

Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang won the Silver Bear at Berlin for this riveting treasure, based on long-time muse Lee Kang-sheng’s own mysterious neck injury. Stretching the boundaries of formal innovation, The River touchingly illuminates urban melancholia and the symbiosis between mind and body.

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