- Screening Today:The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Waste is the interface of life and death. It incarnates all that has been rendered invisible, peripheral, or expendable to history writ large, that is, history as the tale of great men, empire, and nation.—Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother (2006)
A film operates through what it withdraws from the visible.—Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics (2004)
1. Goodbye, Dragon Inn in the Time After
Where does cinema begin and end?
There is a series of images in Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), directed by Tsai Ming-liang, that contain the central thesis of this essay (figure 1). In the first image of a canted wide shot, Chen [End Page 65]
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Shiang-Chyi's character of the Ticket Lady is at the lower edge of the frame, and with one hand on the door of a cinema hall within Fuhe Grand Theater, she looks up at the film projection of a martial arts heroine in King Hu's Dragon Inn (1967). The heroine, Daughter of Yu Qian, from Dragon Inn, is played by Hsu Feng. In this image, the Ticket Lady's lilac top visually echoes the blues of the film's landscape and the heroine's robe, but there are still lines of separation framing the spatiotemporal distance between the larger-than-life body onscreen and the diminutive body of the spectator. However, what follows is an unusual series of eyeline matches between the female leading characters in Dragon Inn and Goodbye, Dragon Inn that I will examine in detail later by extending Maurice Merleau-Ponty's ontology of flesh to the flash of the luminous world of cinema in order to show that the chiasm of the visible and the invisible allows for afterlives of cinema beyond the proclamations of the ends of cinema.
Through interviews, site visits, and formal and theoretical readings of cinematic and photographic works, this essay is a four-part investigation tethered to the deep space of Fuhe Grand Theater as a cinematic afterimage. First, I investigate the material remnants of Fuhe Grand Theater and the interconnections between the personal histories it shelters and the fortunes of the Taiwan film industry. Second, I read Merleau-Ponty's Visible and the Invisible through the ways in which the film Goodbye, Dragon Inn acts not only as a site of survival for a closed theater but also as a chiasmatic archive that holds intertwined experiential and cinematic worlds. Third, I [End Page 66] present Taiwanese artist Chu Yin Hua's photographic project Goodbye, Goodbye Dragon Inn as an example of spectatorial futurity persisting across technological and formal divides. Finally, I return to two fallen "Screening Today" signs in Fuhe Grand Theater in order to propose a speculative indexicality that not only functions as a link to a returning past but can also be reactivated for future referents.
By working through the material, cinematic, photographic, biographical, historical, and theoretical, I show the ways in which cinema is constituted by its materiality as well as its immaterial dimensions and, relatedly, show that the visibilities of cinema are inextricable from other modes of invisibility, including time as the past that verges on being forgotten and the future that is being awaited. The different methods of inquiry allow me to sketch out the chiasmatic intertwining of the flesh of the world and the flash of cinema by following threads of the expansive afterlives of Goodbye, Dragon Inn. In so doing, my aim is to extend Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological provocation on the chiasmatic intertwining of the flesh of the self in the world and the flesh of the world to consider the multiple embodiments that cinema has the capacity to hold, which I term the "flash of cinema." In the homonymous flesh/flash, I hope to evoke a sense of the accretion of bodies within the accumulative instances of cinema, where from each flash of captured time there is always something that escapes or dwells uncaptured within: from...