Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang returns to familiar territory in ‘Stray Dogs’, or so it initially seems. For a good hour or more, this rigorous and demanding film plays like a greatest-hits package. (Newbies shouldn’t start here.)
The director’s usual star Lee Kang-sheng is a homeless Taipei man who by day holds up advertising placards along a busy city roadway and by night squats in an abandoned building with his two children. It’s a tough and tedious life punctuated by doses of the surreal comedy that fans have come to expect from the filmmaker.
‘Stray Dogs’ really starts to come alive however in its second half, when the action switches to a decrepit apartment straight out of a Japanese horror film and the family-of-outcasts narrative tips completely into the realm of the avant-garde. It’s at this point that you understand Tsai’s disorienting choice to have the lead female character (a supermarket manager who takes a motherly interest in Lee’s kids) played by three different performers.
Everything that came before is reoriented through a newly nightmarish prism, and the lengthy final two shots (each running more than ten minutes) rank among the best work this inimitable artist has ever done.