Where is the Taiwanese Public Energy?

According to Tsai and other new wave filmmakers there is nothing else to do in 'modern Taiwan' except eat, shit, sleep and fuck - a deep-rooted ambivalence and pessimism. (Cinema Matters, 2006)

Taipei is a grey dirty city – there’s lots going on – but it is far too orderly. There are no places of frenzy. No places which give you a sense of anticipation. Sometimes I feel like there must be some secret places were people spend their money. I read somewhere that many Taiwanese people spend their spare money on travelling.

Tsai Ming’s latest film The Hole also connotes an absence at the heart of Taiwanese life - a fundamental lack of communication and humanity that renders nationalist ideals of wealth, progress and unity absurd. "This is my thought: Modern man does not know how to communicate, indeed, they don't know how to learn how to communicate ... the biggest hope of my characters is that there will be someone who will extend a hand to them or offer them a glass of water." -- Tsai Ming-Liang in the Production Notes to The Hole. (Cinema Matters, 2006).

Taiwanese society revolves around the family unit. Families plan their lives together - taking each other into consideration. The business families plan the careers and social ascent of their children - so that the family can amass as much social resource and look down on as many other families as possible, and to consume more and more.

This creates what seems like a social vacuum in the public sphere. Taiwanese people don’t seem full of aggression and excitement.

Let us contrast this for a second with the nervous energy in Britain - everybody is waiting for the next revolution. In Taiwan, the strength of the family unit – ‘family thought’ controls the individual impulse - and calms the people.

The motorcycle becomes fetishised for its potential for movement - the feeling it imparts to the riders that they are going somewhere, even if its aimlessly. They seek escape from the oppressive metropolis - a desolate architectural nightmare where the nights seem endless and consumerism has become as monotonous as everything else. For Taipei's youth only on a scooter does there seem to be any hope, a possibility for growth, for escape. (Cinema Matters, 2006).

James Johnson - December 2006

The Taiwanese - a people set adrift

Relevant Links

  • Cinema Matters (2006) Love, Life and Lies: The films of Tsai Ming-Liang in the context of the new Taiwanese Cinema.
  • Living in Taiwan.

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