Time Out says
Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang, whose last feature was 2009’s underrated French fantasia Face, returns to familiar territory, or so it initially seems. For a good hour or more, the rigorous and demanding Stray Dogs plays like a greatest-hits package. (Newbies shouldn’t start here.) The writer-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. In one lengthy scene, Lee devours a head of cabbage that his daughter uses as a doll—an encounter that plays both like a sex-film parody and a tragedy-tinged howl from the void.
Such sequences are mesmerizing in their way, but Tsai’s done this sort of thing with greater potency in movies like 2005’s porn-world musical The Wayward Cloud (there, a watermelon was the object of affection). Stray Dogs really starts to come alive in its second half, when the action switches to a decrepit apartment out of a J-horror film and the family-of-outcasts narrative tips completely into the slippery realm of the avant-garde. It’s at this point that you understand Tsai’s disorienting choice to have the lead female character (a grocery-store 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.
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