Taipei Personality


The most memorable fusion of song, dance, and weather since Singin’ in the Rain, The Hole overflows with Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s trademarks: precipitation and pessimism. “When I had to depict the year 2000, I could only think of despair,” says Tsai. “I had an image of endless raining.”

Discussing the main emblem in his work, the director is more loquacious than all his characters combined. “When I use a symbol, I never repeat its meaning. In Rebels of the Neon God, the water is a flooding of desire. In Vive l’Amour, the characters drink as if they need water to survive. In The River, it’s the disintegration of family. In The Hole, it’s about greater destructions, but on the other hand, salvation comes with a glass of water.”

Obsessed with everyday
decay, Tsai considers his
apocalyptic film a realist text. “Taipei has developed rapidly and drastically: it’s a city without memories. The environment’s getting worse, and social disasters are frequent. People grasp at materialist values and go crazy without knowing why. My films reflect this mentality. But Taiwanese people are adaptable. They always choose to live in the most undignified ways.” He grins as his translator
delivers the punch line. “I never say what happens after they transform. Maybe they’re living quite well as cockroaches.”

The Hole differs most glaringly from Tsai’s modernist, minimalist trilogy in the director’s insertion of vibrant musical numbers. “When writing the script, I thought, ‘How can I cope with this kind of disaster?’ I grew up on 1950s Hong Kong films, imitations of Hollywood musicals. Popular songs in the ’50s were passionate. People knew how to dream. Grace Chang’s songs give me comfort; they’re a weapon to confront my despair for the future.”