Taiwan film explores alienation of Asia immigrants
Mon Sep 4, 2006 11:59 PM IST
By Mike Collett-White
VENICE (Reuters) – A new Taiwanese film competing at the Venice Film Festival explores poverty and alienation among foreign workers in Malaysia who were left jobless and homeless by the late 1990s Asian economic crisis.
Director Tsai Ming-Liang, who was born in Malaysia but moved to Taiwan to pursue his career, sets his slow-paced, moody film “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” in a giant, derelict concrete shell to portray how the economic boom quickly turned to bust.
“During that time, you couldn’t help noticing the number of foreign workers hanging around the city,” Tsai said of his trip to Kuala Lumpur in 1999.
“They’d been lured by the economic boom of the mid-1990s and they’d lost everything, including their dreams, in the economic crash,” he added in production notes for the film.
Tsai’s ninth feature film stars his long-term collaborator Lee Kang-Sheng as a vagrant immigrant who is beaten and robbed on the city streets before being taken in by a group of Bangladeshi labourers who nurse him back to health.
Human contact and compassion is a valuable commodity in a world where immigrants are often treated as invisible, and a tender relationship builds between the vagrant and Rawang, one of the Bangladeshis.
The minimalist storyline, using Tsai’s trademark static camerawork and sparse dialogue, centres around a mattress that is lugged from one place to another and where many of the scenes of care and intimacy occur.
Tsai said he used the mattress because it reminded Malaysian viewers of the mattress produced in 1998 as evidence in the corruption trial of former Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
“During the trial of Anwar during the sex scandal, the mattress that was brought in as evidence left a deep impression in everyone’s minds,” he said.
Tsai said he toned down the sexual relationship between Rawang and vagrant Hsiao Kang, because Rawang was played by a Muslim, Norman Atun, for whom such scenes would be “taboo”.
“In many of my films I’ve had nudity and quite a bit of sex,” Tsai, speaking through an interpreter, told a news conference on Monday.
“During the first draft of the script there were some sex scenes between Kang-Sheng and Norman and then I wondered, is this something the public expects to see or can we bypass it and still have sensuality?”
At one point in the story heavy smoke from a nearby fire descends on Kuala Lumpur, Tsai’s way of commenting on the environmental cost of Asian economic development.
“Our blind pursuit of development caused the world to get ‘sick’ a long time ago,” he said. “And so the sudden smog in the film is not a symptom without a cause.”
“I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” is one of five Asian entries in the main Venice competition of 21 films. Tsai has won the coveted Golden Lion award for best film once before in 1994 for his second picture “Vive L’Amour”.
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