Monday, 24 March 2014

REVIEW - JOURNEY TO THE WEST


Stillness and motion in Tsai Ming Liang's riveting new film, a bold and beautiful cinematic game playing with apparent opposites, and supposed artistic boundaries. The camera is positioned so deliberately, so elegantly, as much of what it captures occurs so spontaneously, so accidentally. The monk controls his movements so carefully, as those around him move simply to move. Rigour and randomness in all aspects of life - even our walker cannot exert total control over every minute motion his body makes. He is exacting, you might say, but not exact, for this is not an exercise in clinical precision. Journey to the West is, in fact, given its character as much by the unaware passersby as by the monk - in his complicity in Tsai's work of modern art, indeed his invaluable contribution, he is like the actor in this staged piece, and in their obliviousness (and the consistent interest they provide), these civilians are like the subjects of a secret documentary - though the monk, too, in that his action is not self-serving here but rather of our intended benefit, may also be participating in Tsai's fascinating creation: a documentary in which we are the subjects. Text at the close confirms that what matters is not what is on the screen but that we have acknowledged it. The film, like all works of art, is nothing if it is not perceived, and is not complete without said perception; in this case, this process of observation is not a mere element in the actuation of the art, but integral to its existence and to its operation. And what wondrous images Tsai has given us to observe. No-one knows how to decorate the frame like Tsai, nor even how to construct the frame at its most fundamental level - a level which he makes astoundingly full use of. I've seen few if any films with such complexity in their visual planes, even when the image is at its most seemingly simple.