In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tsai Ming-liang

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Special Issues
  • Interviews
  • Self-Authored Books

Cinema and Media Studies Tsai Ming-liang
Beth Tsai
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0289


Tsai Ming-liang (b. 1957) is a Taiwan-based, Malaysia-born filmmaker. He is regarded as one of the Second Wave directors of the Taiwan New Cinema movement, following precursors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, and Chen Kunhou. His films Vive L’Amour (1994), The River (1997), The Wayward Cloud (2005), and Stray Dogs (2013) have successively won, respectively, the Golden Lion Prize at the Venice Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the Silver Bear Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, and the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival. He has been the recipient of five FIPRESCI Prizes, which are voted on by the International Federation of Film Critics. His first virtual reality film, The Home at Lan Re Temple (2017), was shortlisted for the VR competition at the 74th Venice Film Festival in 2017. During the last decade or so, his work has extended from feature-length works to short art films and installations, such as It’s a Dream (2007), Erotic Space (2010), The Theater in the Boiler Room (2011), and the Walker series (to date, seven short films made between 2012 and 2015). In 2009 his work Visage was commissioned by the Louvre Museum and became the first entry in the “The Louvre Invites Filmmakers” collection. Tsai is also a filmmaker with multiple identities. As an auteur, he tends to work with a set group of actors, especially with his muse, Lee Kang-sheng, who stars in all of Tsai’s features. His films are also known for their queer sensibility. As a director heavily invested in gay subjectivity, his films offer thematic representations of emotions and desires, and focus principally on urban loneliness, cruising, and melancholy. He tends to explore moral boundaries in his films, especially with sexual taboos that made the director one of the most controversial figures within Taiwanese cinema. In addition, Tsai is a leading figure who contributes to the art of slow cinema. His signature style of long takes, long shots, and minimal dialogue can be seen as a formal representation of the postmodern condition and displacement. His later films and installations are seen as the ultimate exploration of pure cinematic form, a departure from his early focus on postcolonial Taipei and its social critique.

General Overviews

In the 1990s and early 2000s, most of the sources on Tsai Ming-liang were in Chinese or they were Tsai’s writings on his films. Over time, the scholarship in English has expanded. Lim 2014 is the first academic monograph in English dedicated to Tsai, while Joyard, et al. 1999 is the first book-length study of the director. Sing 2014 is the first Chinese monograph that situates Tsai’s films and installations in the art history context, whereas Wen Tian-xiang, a longtime film critic and scholar from Taiwan, offers a both personal and distinct view on the trajectory of Tsai’s filmography in Wen 2002. Other articles and book chapters, including Raidel 2017, Hong 2011, Ma 2010, and Yeh and Davis 2005, focus on the recurring themes, motifs, and meta-narrative in Tsai’s films.

  • Hong, Guo-Juin. “Anywhere but Here: The Postcolonial City in Tsai Ming-Liang’s Taipei Trilogy.” In Taiwan Cinema: A Contested Nation on Screen. By Guo-Juin Hong, 159–181. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    This book chapter examines Tsai’s Taipei trilogy—Rebels of the Neon God (1992), Vive L’Amour (1994), and The River (1997). In addition to analyzing Tsai’s ahistorical representation of Taipei city and the postcolonial conditions of Taiwan, the author situates Tsai’s films in the historicity of Taiwan New Cinema.

  • Joyard, Olivier, Jean-Pierre Rehm, and Danièle Rivière. Tsai Ming-liang. Paris: Dis Voir, 1999.

    This book contains two parts: a compilation of critical essays that examine key elements of Tsai’s cinema, and an extended interview with the director, discussing his influences, themes, and work.

  • Lim, Song Hwee. Tsai Ming-Liang and a Cinema of Slowness. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824836849.001.0001

    This book offers an overview of the theoretical terrain of temporality, defines the aesthetics of slow cinema, and address Tsai’s films as a site that mediates between stillness and movement. One of the most compelling components from this book is the use of ASL (average shot length) statistical data to support the author’s discussions on the duration and temporality in Tsai’s films.

  • Ma, Jean. “The Haunted Movie Theater.” In Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema. By Jean Ma, 95–122. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010.

    From an art historian point of view, the author analyzes Tsai’s films as an example of art cinema that goes beyond the European paradigm. For instance, the conjunction of the real and the fantastic in Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) confronts new forms of globalization and hybridity.

  • Raidel, Ella. “The Exhausted Narrative in Tsai Ming-liang’s Films.” Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 11.2 (2017): 329–351.

    This article discusses the use of exhausted narrative in Tsai’s body of work, covering most of his feature films and short films such as the Walker series. The author defines “exhausted narrative” as the processes of writing metafiction in the films’ own narrative universe. Thus, by regarding Tsai’s films as metacinema, what is seemly the banal, the boring, the sameness becomes much more captivating.

  • Sing Song-yong 孫松榮. Projecting Tsai Ming-liang: Towards Transart Cinema (入鏡|出境:蔡明亮的影像藝術與跨界實踐). Taipei: Wunan, 2014.

    This book looks over Tsai’s shift of practice: from television to film, from feature films to installations, and from the movie theater to the art museum. The writings draw upon subjects such as modernism, the death of cinema, and post-medium border crossing. This book also includes an extended interview with the director.

  • Wen Tian-xiang 聞天祥. Freeze-Frame in Light and Shadow: The Spiritual Site of Tsai Ming-liang (光影定格:蔡明亮的心靈場域). Taipei: Hengxing, 2002.

    Wen, a longtime Taiwanese film critic and scholar devoted to Tsai, transformed what was originally his master thesis into this compelling book that provides many firsthand and exclusive stories about Tsai’s early career, including rehearsal experience during the director’s first career in experimental theater (1982–1984).

  • Yeh, Emilie Yueh-Yu, and Darrell William Davis. “Camping Out with Tsai Ming-liang.” In Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island. By Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh, and Darrell William Davis, 217–248. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    This study of selected Taiwan film directors includes a chapter on Tsai, describing his film style as “camp,” invoking Susan Sontag’s definition: a sensibility that reveals in artifice, stylization, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration.

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