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Stray Dogs
(Jiao you)

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang.
With Lee Kang-sheng, Yang Kuei-mei, Lu Yi-ching.
Taiwan/France, 2013, DCP, color, 138 min.
Mandarin with English subtitles.
DCP source: Cinema Guild

In his first feature-length venture into digital filmmaking, Tsai expands upon the durational extremes of his monk-led Walker series to observe a different kind of stasis within the frantic modern world: that of a homeless sign holder and his two starving children. Played by Lee Kang-sheng in a performance of hauntingly composed agony, Tsai’s protagonist plies his demeaning trade for a luxury high-rise development, enduring wind, rain and the indifferent masses for a measly pittance that falls short of putting food on the table for his family. For its first half, Stray Dogs offers an embittered slice of social realism as it intercuts between this man’s thankless toil and his children’s desperate wanderings through the alternately sterile and decrepit heart of contemporary Taipei, only periodically benefiting from the generosity of strangers. In its final stretch, however, the film’s seemingly linear timeline disintegrates, and the story relocates to a decomposing underground bunker where a surreal portrait of domesticity and family intimacy emerges. Is it the future, the past, or the imagination? A radically contemplative finale suggests such a question is beside the point, as the longing for another, more just world is as timeless as destitution.

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