Lee Kang-sheng’s performances for Tsai are often as physically demanding as they are emotionally intense, even if the latter quality is more regularly remarked upon. The actor’s gift for wholly inhabiting unconventional physical tasks defines Walker, the inaugural entry in a series of films that center Lee as a monk navigating urban environments with a breathtakingly slow gait. In a procession of cleverly framed images of a bustling, highly commercialized Hong Kong, Lee never breaks his molasses-like stride or wavers in his delicate balance, all while onlookers gawk at him and the cacophony of modern life threatens to disrupt his deep concentration. As much a plea for the value of slowness and silence as it is an experiment in visually manifesting the passage of time, Walker compresses many of Tsai’s late-career preoccupations into one perversely absorbing exercise.
No No Sleep would seem at first to be an unambiguous continuation of the Walker series embarked upon by Tsai three years prior. It begins on an elevated walking path in Tokyo, where Lee, again in a red monk’s robe, is cutting a typically unhurried path to the subway station. From here, Tsai presents a six-minute sequence of urban train travel that becomes nearly abstract in its rushing horizontal movement and embrace of the overexposed extremes of the digital camera’s sensor. Then, in its third section, a version of Lee that may or may not be the monk from the beginning of the film crosses paths with Japanese actor Ando Masanobu in an otherwise abandoned day spa, at which point the film becomes a spare dramatization of missed connection and unmet urges. The introduction of narrative elements to a short film series otherwise built around the thorough execution of a single concept proves at once jarring and generative, casting notions of temporal immersion in a distinctly personal light.