Watching a film can be a surprisingly solitary experience. You often don’t say a word to the people you join in the theater, you don’t look into the faces of the people who sit only inches from you. Despite the occasional shared laugh or tear, if you use your time in the theater to try striking up a conversation with someone you’ve never met, you’ll find just how much you’re expected to be quiet and reserved, to keep your distance. Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn uses this isolation of the theater to beautiful and unsettling ends, taking it as a paradigm for how we can be surrounded by other people and still be completely alone. The trailer’s series of disconnected scenes gives a taste of how this alienation operates in the film.
On a rainy night, a young man wanders into the final screening of an old movie theater. The opulent fictional world of the Technicolor production on screen contrasts starkly with the drab reality of the theater with its leaking ceilings, flickering fluorescent lights, and dull, peeling paint. The ghostly patrons sit awkwardly close to each other without ever acknowledging each other’s presence. The young man tries desperately to make some kind of connection, looking around at the other theater-goers while they stare transfixed at the screen. He goes to the restroom where he again finds himself side by side with other people—this time at the urinals’yet still unable to talk to them. He wanders the halls where a man, in one of the very few line of dialogue, says to him, “Do you know this theater is haunted? This theater is haunted.” The long stretches without any real interactions make for a thoroughly disorienting experience for us as viewers, and Tsai does nothing to try to guide our thoughts to any easy conclusion; the film is made up of a series of long shots that give us plenty of time to take in every aspect of a scene until we start to rethink exactly what we’re looking for. But the scenes are worth examining, such as this visually and temporally overwhelming shot of the massive theater with its row upon row of empty seats that is part Andreas Gursky, part La Monte Young.
Also keep an eye out for Tsai’s latest film, Visage, a retelling of the Salomé myth nominated for a Golden Palm at this year’s Cannes and that, judging from this trailer is going to be unlike anything I’ve seen from Tsai before.
Francis Reynolds is an editorial assistant at Guernica. Read his last staff pick, on Horacia Castellanos Moya’s The She-Devil in the Mirror, “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1303/staff_pick_francis_reynolds_6/.