Becoming-Cockroach in the End Times: Alienation and Involution in the Films of Tsai Ming-liang

Conference: The Asian Conference on Media, Communication & Film (MediAsia2022)
Title: Becoming-Cockroach in the End Times: Alienation and Involution in the Films of Tsai Ming-liang
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Xi Li, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong


During the pandemic times, films that envision the state of human civilizations under a hypothetical doomsday have made comebacks in popularity. Nevertheless, unlike those conventional highly realistic films, Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole (1998) seems to have given its prediction of the pandemic by reviving a non-resembling and non-representing aspect of cinema. This paper explores how moving images provide a de-peopled and de-centralized perspective of the camera-eye to imagine the state of human life from a hypothetical apocalyptic syndrome in the films of Tsai Ming-liang. By focusing on the non-diegetic and non-representing components of Tsai’s moving images, such as mise-en-scène and frame-within-the-frame, this paper further explores how Tsai’s films illustrate the alienation and isolation of urban individuals while at the same time reciprocally establishing a spectral connection between them by creating a liminal space-time in a cinematic “reality.” By employing a delicate close reading of moving images, in the light of Deleuzian becoming-animal and out-of-field, this paper, which mainly takes The Hole (1998), The Wayward Cloud (2005), I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006), and Stray Dogs (2013) as examples, will further explore how the moving images present the dehumanization of characters in a creative form of becoming- cockroach, becoming-stray dog, etc., through creating an uncanny symbiosis between characters and non-human beings; and how the moving images create radical Elsewheres or nowheres which demonstrate a transnationality and universality in place of regionality and locality.

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