×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Afternoon’

Tsai Ming-liang's dawdling filmed conversation with his male muse Lee Kang-sheng will bewitch some and bore others.

With:
Tsai Ming-liang, Lee Kang-sheng. (Mandarin dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4914552/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1

A Tsai is just a sigh in “Afternoon,” a dallying, mildly disarming filmed tete-a-tete between Tsai Ming-liang and his beloved leading man Lee Kang-sheng that takes equal, undiscriminating interest in both conversational ebb and flow. Covering a lot — creative collaboration, sexuality, cooking, favorite countries — and concluding very little in the cheekily extended space of 137 minutes, this is a curio at once modest and wildly indulgent, with precisely nothing to offer auds not already entrenched in the Tsai cult. Card-carrying members, on the other hand, will delight in seeing one of the contemporary cinema’s pre-eminent auteur-actor partnerships at supposed leisure, with the director’s signature long-take gaze turned in on himself. Even they, however, may admit that whiling away an “Afternoon” doesn’t rep the most invaluable use of Tsai’s time and ability. 

“Significantly less commercial than ‘Stray Dogs'” is something of a less-than-zero assessment, but beyond the festival circuit, “Afternoon” warrants programming only in the context of larger Tsai showcases — or, in the home-viewing market, bound to luxury reissues of previous works. Late in the film, Tsai voices his pride at seeing “Stray Dogs,” the singularly languid (anti-)narrative film that gave his auteur status a shot in the arm two years ago, screened in art galleries last year. “Afternoon” aspires to the same level of exhibition, even if it’s hardly an equivalently scaled artwork — with its two onscreen participants often jovially undermining the project’s significance in their stop-start chatter.

The setup here is almost perversely simple, as the film comprises just four static shots — which may as well be one, given the unvarying nature of their composition and content. (Even the editing-averse Tsai, it seems, can acknowledge that not all interstitial lulls need make it to the screen.) In one airy, crumbling room of a derelict rural house that could as easily be the mud-and-stone set of an imaginary Tsai opus, the shaven-headed director and Lee — the uniquely physical actor who has been his constant male muse since their joint 1992 debut “Rebels of the Neon God” — sit, casually flip-flopped, in low-slung chairs. (“Our films are all ruins,” the director proclaims, and his chosen location for this personal piece literalizes the point.) Together, they barely occupy half the frame, much of which is given over to a lush, wind-tousled view of treetops from a gaping picture window — a foregrounded visual escape route for when the talk drifts into thin air.

Which it does, often and rather deliberately. Those expecting a lively back-and-forth reflection on the pair’s 11-film partnership will be disappointed, as Tsai — the more active conversational partner throughout — prefers to meditate more nebulously on their “beautiful impermanent relationship.” That tack isn’t without its gently illuminating rewards, as Tsai essentially states his undying, knowingly unrequited desire for the heterosexual Lee in a variety of verbal permutations, while the actor — more reticent, but clearly familiar with such affectionate expressions — hears him out with tacit understanding.

Their collaboration is addressed in general, mutually appreciative terms, with Tsai admiringly describing Lee as “maybe the strangest actor ever,” though only “Stray Dogs” is discussed in individual detail. Between matters of love and art, Tsai also delights in banalities: An idle question about preferred destinations cues a lengthy, pause-ridden listing of shared travel experiences that, in turn, highlights their seasoned personal history.

Tsai doesn’t always protect the film’s illusion of intimacy, drawing attention from the outset to the fact that it’s still a somewhat contrived exercise. “How can we imagine the crew isn’t here?” he asks at the beginning, and the film does little to answer that for the viewer: A boom mic flashes calculatedly into the frame at one point, while an unseen speaker prods Tsai and Lee with questions whenever they float off into silence. There’s a sense, then, that their talk might not be wholly spontaneous, that their interaction is being staged onscreen as a kind of elegiac relationship study, moodily pained smoking intervals and all. Tsai, who has already spoken of his retirement from feature filmmaking, intimates that he might be dying, though Lee doesn’t seem especially concerned: When the director asserts that they may not have many more such conversational opportunities, the actor’s bemused response is, “Why? We haven’t said much.”

Some viewers will frustratedly agree; others will feel, perhaps with a soft ache in their hearts, that the indelibly allied pair could hardly say more. Whether Tsai sticks to his retirement plan or not, “Afternoon” is more wry, over-extended footnote than swansong, though its strange, circuitous rhythms and angular visual bareness are palpably those of its maker.

Venice Film Review: 'Afternoon'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 11, 2015. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Wavelengths.) Running time: 137 MIN. (Original title: "Na ri xia wu")

Production: (Taiwan — Documentary) A Homegreen Films production. (International sales: Homegreen Films, Taipei.) Produced by Claude Wang. Executive producer, Xu Li-xia.

Crew: Directed by Tsai Ming-liang. Camera (color), Lai Tian-jian; editor, Lei Zhen-qing; sound, Ho Tsiang-ling; assistant director, Chang Jhong-yuan.

With: Tsai Ming-liang, Lee Kang-sheng. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • UGC Distribution Closes on Mariano Cohn’s

    Ventana Sur: UGC Distribution Closes Market Hit ‘4 x 4’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — UGC Distribution has beaten out all other suitors to clinch what had became by Friday morning the most anticipated deal of this year’s Ventana Sur market: All rights to France on Argentine Mariano Cohn’s “4 x 4,” sold by Latido Films and distributed throughout Argentina by Disney. After mounting speculation about which [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film News Roundup: 'Aquaman' Hits $152 Million at International Box Office

    In today’s film news roundup, “Aquaman” has already grossed more than $150 million outside the U.S., Michael Masini joins “Birds of Prey,” and Freestyle buys the documentary “Shamanic Trekker.” BOX OFFICE More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Warner Bros.’ tentpole “Aquaman” has taken in $152 million overseas in 36 markets, [...]

  • 'Winter's Night' Review: Enigmatic, Offbeat Korean

    Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night'

    There are thousands of films about love’s beginning, and a great many about love’s end. But far fewer deal with a relationship’s late-middle: the spreading, sluggish delta of coupledom when decades of familiarity, if they have not bred contempt, at least threaten irritation. “Winter’s Night,” Jang Woo-jin’s playfully melancholic third feature, after the acclaimed “A [...]

  • Tomasz Kot UTA

    UTA Signs ‘Cold War’ Star Tomasz Kot (EXCLUSIVE)

    UTA has signed “Cold War” star Tomasz Kot. He has appeared in more than 30 films and 26 plays as well as dozens of television series. More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Most recently, Kot has received award-season buzz for his starring role as Wiktor in Pawel Pawlikowski’s feature “Cold [...]

  • Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening

    Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening Palm Springs Film Festival

    The 30th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on Jan. 3 with historical drama “All Is True,” starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen. Branagh, who will be in attendance at the opening night screening, directed from Ben Elton’s script about the little-known period in the final years of William Shakespeare. Branagh [...]

  • Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies

    Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies at 77

    Actor, activist and influentials member of the Japanese American community, Rodney Kageyama, died in his sleep Dec. 9. He was 77. The SAG member was known for roles in “Karate Kid IV” with Hillary Swank, Ron Howard’s film “Gung Ho” and the spinoff sitcom, and the TV movie “Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes” with Max [...]

  • Most Popular Films 2018: The Best

    9 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired by This Year's Most Popular Films

    From superheroes to super nannies, 2018 was a year full of memorable characters — and memorable movies. Whether you’re a big film buff, an avid follower of a popular franchise, or have a couple movie fans in your life, here are nine gifts that capture the fun of some of this year’s biggest films. 1. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content