Journey to the West Screen 20 articles

Journey to the West

2014

Journey to the West Poster
  • Compositions are consistently magnificent enough to remain absorbing even when it takes Lee nine or ten minutes to traverse the frame, and spectator reactions (which I assume are spontaneous, but wouldn't be disappointed to learn were mediated), especially that of the one little girl on the stairwell, prove richer and more thought-provoking here. Main reason I'm not even more enthused is that the film seems to have an easily digestible Buddhist message, viz. "be mindful of your existence"...

  • Lee has a foil in athletic French performer Denis Lavant, and Journeyopens with a long take of Lavant in close-up, on his side, breathing. What willhis time-space be? If he chooses to follow the Way of the Monk, can he attain the discipline to exit, or at least mitigate, quotidian time? Taking its title from the 16th century work of Chinese classical literature, Journey to the West is Tsai’s metaphorical tale of Buddhism moving out into the larger world.

  • Journey to the West, a feature-length expansion of Tsai’s red-robed-monk-walking-very-slowly-idea—executed so effectively in his hypnotic short, The Walker—ultimately pays diminished returns in long form, despite the new setting of Marseilles, the addition of Denis Lavant (as a kind of apprentice to Lee Kang-sheng's oblivious, contemplative monastic master), and a couple legitimately stunning compositions.

  • Tsai has taken his own good time in deciding how to film [Lee's] performance. Running just short of an hour, Journey to the West is comprised of fourteen shots, each radically different from the others in its startling composition. The standout for me is one in which Lee descends a set of stone stairs, the light of the setting sun outlining his figure in white, then bright yellow, then gold.

  • Seeing [Journey to the West] on this scale was a revelation. That’s partly because the film’s sculptural element came magnificently to the fore: one shot shows a crumbling, cracked red-painted wall that fills the screen until the monk’s hand gradually glides into shot. And partly because Tsai magnificently uses every corner of the screen, which you get to scrutinise in depth, craning your head to scan its details

  • There are two or three shots in this film which simply defy belief, and Tsai's customary long takes don't just allow time to drink in the rich detail of the people and surroundings, but to decipher logistical givens such as where the camera is, what angle it's pointed where in the frame will the action appear. Above everything, Journey to the West makes most (if not all) other directors look blind to the sublime possibilities of the frame.

  • [It's] a wonderful piece of reflection, permeated with one of the most beautiful photography ever done in Tsai’s ouvre... A profound, meditative journey through the slow action of performance, Journey to the West by Tsai Ming -liang could easily be shown as part of a museum exhibition: the roaming of human being across the land, where the path is more important than the destination.

  • It is truly amazing how much Tsai is able to accomplish with such a minimal premise. The film is utterly mesmerizing for every one of its 56 minutes and manages to elicit an extraordinary range of emotions. It is impossible not to be overcome by spiritual reflections as the monk descends a staircase, the glaring sun behind him turning his body into a dark silhouette outlined by a radiant halo while the dust particles in the foreground whiz around like ethereal fireflies.

  • ...The film's supposed mini-discourse on East-meets-West, was, admittedly, hardly my entry point into the film. Rather, it was the film's immediate, intuitive beauty, its immaculately designed images, its sense of "sculpting in time," and the remarkable balance between the rigor of its compositions and a regard for the unpredictable activity passing through its frames. It is a film bursting with life.

  • In one ten-plus minute shot, the monk descends stairs into the metro while passers-by rush past him. Only one young girl pauses to watch the monk’s laborious downward climb, subsequently (and unconsciously) pausing in the process. (Indeed, Xi You had a similar effect on me.) Utterly beautiful in its simplicity, the film envisions another kind of temporal space, where time is measured in deliberate, paced movement and not linearly.

  • As Journey to the West draws to a close we realize in its final image that what we had believed to be real was is fact little more than literally a reflection. The frame that we thought presented a sliver of real is in fact the object of contemplation, the flame upon which one focuses in order to access a deeper truth, that of the world’s composition, and not its being.

  • If the monk’s real-life observers tend to lose interest in his snail-like progress after a few seconds or minutes, we stay tethered to him, caught up in his wake. More than a transient intermediary between the city’s spaces and its inhabitants, in a metaphysical sense Xi You’s monk appears to be everywhere at once. He is space in in the abstract, in its simultaneous expansion and contraction, its everywhere-ness.

  • The Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-Liang’s ravishing conceptual film achieves a rare blend of sensuous delight and documentary specificity... The act of useless beauty [the monk descending a staircase]—which also offers a lesson for the cinema’s living legend—raises metaphorical questions of how such a way of life is sustained. Tsai’s radical vision, challenging basic ideas of cultural politics and economic choices, turns the world as we know it upside down.

  • Suddenly, the final shot of a whole city square seen upside down via a grand mirror reflection acquires an even deeper meaning beyond the immediate pleasure of its sheer inventiveness. Tsai's cinema has always been founded on discovering the beautifully surreal in the seemingly everyday, often without the safety net of dialogue. Consider this short but sweet new work of his, then, a near-wordless statement of purpose.

  • The gap between bemused on-screen onlookers and the perspective afforded to audience members is conducive to self-reflexive scrutiny: it’s precisely the exactly framed static perspectives distilled to 14 unmoving shots that give both people and their environment the same visual weight. It’s certainly one of the most important films the Tribeca Film Festival is showing... This is a rewardingly compact incentive to focus.

  • This may sound like a daunting film to watch, but don’t worry. It is by far Tsai’s most playful film in years, inviting the viewer to play games with what is on the screen: sometimes we wait anxiously for Lee’s monk to inevitably creep into the scene; at other times we scan the vast public spaces, playing a “Where’s Waldo” game to spot him. And sometimes we are even transported by Tsai’s ecstatic play of light, space, and time—cinema at its purest.

  • The year’s most committed feat of filmmaking—indeed, this may be the most literal manifestation of slow cinema yet conceived—the Taiwanese master’s latest furthermore stands as a culmination of many of his primary formal and thematic preoccupations... While Tsai claims to have set aside feature-length filmmaking, he appears to be far from finished. If anything, Journey to West represents yet another very deliberate, very determined step forward.

  • Great films often rest on a simple idea – in this case, a surrealist concept (courtesy of Lautréamont): (4) as beautiful as the encounter, in a French southern metropolis, of Tsai’s Lee Kang-sheng and Leos Carax’s Denis Lavant.

  • It mixes both a species of hyper-realism – precisely documenting, as in a Straub-Huillet film, the movement of light or the sound of the wind – and a sense of surrealist marvel... Tsai (after judicious editing) accepts all the fluctuations, all the accidents. It is his Zen wisdom at its most paradoxical height, as in his earlier video A Conversation with God (2001): some measure of serenity is found at the heart of a truly chaotic, messed-up, urban world.

  • Different viewers will likely take away different things; I personally see it as a complex statement about how ancient Eastern religions seem "out of step" with the fast pace of modern Western life, and how there are elements of contemporary Western civilization that, for this very reason, feel irresistibly drawn towards Eastern philosophy. Regardless of how one interprets it, what's not in dispute is the film's extreme formal beauty, as well as its unexpected, ineffable sense of humor

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