For many directors, there seems to be something intensely personal about their first films. Malaysian-born filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) Taipei trilogy feels like that. In those films, he explores youthful anomie, unspoken longings, and familial dysfunction in ‘90s Taipei. By his admission, much of his inspiration comes from his own experiences.
Knowing where to begin with any director can be a challenge, particularly with one as deliberately paced as Tsai. For him, though, it really is best to begin at the beginning. To do so is to watch Tsai struggling to find a cinematic language, just as his recurring cast of characters struggle to find their place in a fast-changing world. No one can maintain that level of vulnerability, personally or artistically, over a lifetime. But that’s why it’s beautiful when one dares. By shedding many of the conventions of New Wave predecessors like Edward Yang (楊德昌) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), Tsai freed himself to depict love and loneliness for a new generation and cement his place among the great auteurs of the century.