Stray Dogs

Movies, Drama
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Stray Dogs

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.

Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich

By: Keith Uhlich

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Release details

Rated: N/R
Release date: Friday September 12 2014
Duration: 138 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Screenwriter: Tsai Ming-liang, Peng Fei Song, Chen Yu Tung
Cast: Lee Kang-sheng
Lu Yi-Ching
Chen Shiang-Chyi
Yang Kuei-mei
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