Is there an intrinsic pleasure to be found in films that relentlessly make manifest their own factitiousness? I want to pick out one scene from Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs. Actress Lu Yi-ching stands and stares at a mural, a chance discovery in an abandoned Taipei building. Illuminating the composition with a shaking torch, Lu instils a modicum of abstract expressionism into the mural’s landscape. After several minutes, Lu places the torch on the floor and, squatting down, begins to urinate. Within this simple performative gesture Lu’s confrontation brilliantly oscillates between a transfixed escapism and Taipei entrapment. Throughout Stray Dogs Tsai consistently employs Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt; all the performers oscillate between a state of reflective transcendence and precarious self-awareness.
Patrick Brian Smith is a Frederick H. Lowy Doctoral Fellow in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University. His research interests include film aesthetics, labour studies and experimental/avant-garde cinema. He has a forthcoming chapter contribution to a volume in the Edinburgh University Press series, Traditions in World Cinema, on Slow Cinema.