Thu, Jul 11, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Movie review: Your Face

Director Tsai Ming-liang wants to know how long it has been since you gazed upon a face

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Lee Kang-sheng, longtime collaborator of director Tsai Ming-liang, features in Tsai’s latest documentary Your Face.

Photo courtesy of

Director Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) has long been obsessed with the unwavering gaze of the camera.

The 61-year-old has been described as “a master of the very long take” by The Guardian. His name is synonymous with the genre of “slow cinema,” in which the camera lingers contemplatively on his subjects, who may or may not be saying or doing anything, as well as the things and scenes they leave behind long after they have departed the frame.

The effect is that time does not so much pass as it oozes and drips, like honey from beeswax.

In Tsai’s latest, the 78-minute documentary Your Face (你的臉), the camera’s gaze comes to rest on 13 men and women literally cast from the streets of Taipei. Tsai opens a peephole into their lives, with varying degrees of insight and humor, and emerges with a collective portrait of the city and its people.

Slow cinema is not for everyone, especially audiences bred on a diet of standard movie time. The average shot length in films made today is 2.5 seconds; each of the 14 static shots in Your Face lasts several minutes. And if you’re looking for plot-driven action, there’s none of that. As the credits started rolling, one audience member a few seats down from me was heard whispering very audibly: “That’s it?”

But if you can muster it, the investment of time and attention to gaze at a stranger’s face can be as rewarding as meditation. With time, you might even get the sense that you are the one being gazed upon.

The Malaysian-born Tsai, who began making films in Taiwan in the late 1980s, remains one of Asia’s most influential living directors and a darling of the international arthouse and festival circuit, where he has been much feted over a 30-year career.

Film Notes

Your Face



Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮)


Lee Kang-sheng (李康生)


78 minutes


Mandarin with English subtitles


In theaters

Not content to rest on his ample laurels and perform old tricks, Tsai has continued to strain against the boundaries of cinema — take for instance The Deserted (家在蘭若寺), his 2017 foray into virtual reality (VR) technology.

In a director’s statement, Tsai says that making the VR film, which required no traditional composition work, left him with the urge to shoot close-ups, which he decided to parlay into a film consisting entirely of close-up shots. Your Face is the resultant work.

Tsai spent two months searching for the right faces. While he has not been explicit about his selection criteria, the entire cast is middle-aged or older. On their faces, the etchings of time — gash-like wrinkles, watery eyes and gummy yellow smiles — prove more visually rewarding than unblemished youth, hinting as they do at lifetimes of joy and grief.

Each person has a unique reaction to being filmed unrelentingly in close-up. Some chortle at the novelty of it all; some fall asleep. Some speak unbidden; some are gently prompted by Tsai, who is a sympathetic and inquisitive interviewer. These are the most memorable, since Tsai draws out stories of hardship, serendipity and regret that make us feel like we know the people behind the faces.

To those familiar with Tsai’s oeuvre, one of the faces will seem like that of an old friend. Tsai’s longtime collaborator and leading man Lee Kang-sheng (李康生) appears here, as he has done in each of Tsai’s 11 feature films. Stripped of traditional direction, the actor looks straight into the camera and narrates childhood memories. Lee’s mother also features in a surprisingly sprightly sequence involving tongue exercises.

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