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  • “My Films Reflect My Living Situation”:An Interview with Tsai Ming-liang on Film Spaces, Audiences, and Distribution
  • Shujen Wang (bio) and Chris Fujiwara (bio)

On October 7, 2003, Tsai Ming-liang screened his film What Time Is It There? at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as part of his tour of colleges on the east and west coasts of the United States. We interviewed him before and after the screening. Wang translated the interview.

Chris Fujiwara: Are you conscious of a difference in the reception your work has received in the West vs. in Asia? Do Western and Asian viewers respond to different aspects of the films, read them differently?

Tsai Ming-liang: Most of the foreign viewers that I have come to have contact with are film professionals or aficionados. I also have the opportunity to face audiences in Taiwan. My feeling is that there is not that much of a difference in their reading of my films. It is a matter of getting used to my films. Those who accept my films right away are normally those who have [End Page 219] more tolerance for different films. Just like how we watch foreign films or how we are able to accept Bergman films. I don't think it is a matter of understanding, but of habit. It takes time for my audience to go from not accepting to liking my films. Some people accept them right away, but others need more time. Of course once they know my films, they would know not to expect to see action or a story in my films. They would know that there would be Lee Kang-sheng, or that there would be no music or very little dialogue. In Goodbye Dragon Inn, my latest film, for example, there are only ten lines of dialogue in the film. Because in the past my earlier films such as The River or Vive L'Amour were screened at film festivals, most viewers tended to be restless when they went to my films because they were seeing a lot of films at film festivals. Some would leave after only seeing part of the film. Today fewer and fewer people leave during the screening. They know that they cannot be restless if they want to see my films. Almost no one left the screenings of Goodbye Dragon Inn in Venice, Toronto, Vancouver, and Taipei. I think it is a matter of getting used to my films.

Shujen Wang: How about issues of space? Do people have different readings of your films in terms of space?

TM: I think my films are more urban, about urban living and style. It would be hard for a non-urban dweller to have the right kind of reading of my films. For example, professor Lu Fei-I is editing a book on my films and he has collected reviews of my films from around the world. He found something very interesting. A reviewer's geographical location would determine their readings of my films. Reviews from one location, for example, would focus on the body, while reviews from another location would be on space, and yet another on time. I think this has to do with the nature of my films, in that they are very open. As such, they are open to multiple readings. Even if narrative films normally have a story, I try hard to remove the story from my film. While it is impossible to take the story completely away from a narrative film, I try to decrease it as much as possible as I do not want viewers to focus on the story. I want the viewers to feel. That is the difference.

SW: When you make a film, do you have a certain kind of audience in mind that you are making the films for? [End Page 220]

TM: No, not at all. In fact, I always believe that in creating a film there should not be an audience. Markets have audiences, but not art creation. Hollywood films of course have markets and audiences, and they need to please the mass audience. A genre film would also have its audience. My films, on...