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Laramie Movie Scope:
Stray Dogs (Jiao You) 2013

Another experimental film of boredom and strangeness

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 20, 2015 -- This experimental film by Tsai Ming-Liang (who formerly worked in experimental theater) is a work consisting of a series of static camera shots of children and adults on the ragged edge of existence in Taipei, Taiwan.

The main characters are a father (Kang-sheng Lee) and his two children (Yi Cheng Lee and his sister Yi Chieh Lee) who seem to be living in an abandoned building (I read one review that said it was a shipping container, but it did not look like one). The father makes a bit of money by holding up a sign advertising apartments at a busy intersection, where there seems to be a lot of wind all the time.

There is another character, Shiang-chyi Chen, who works as a check out clerk at a supermarket. She takes food to stray dogs living in an abandoned building which has a striking mural on the wall of an interior room.

There is a scene in which Kang-sheng Lee wanders around in an upscale apartment and relaxes in a fancy bed, but this is not like the rest of the film where the people exist in uncomfortable, run-down places where there is only minimal comfort.

More typical is a scene in which Shiang-chyi Chen sings a sad song while crying and holding his advertising sign. Here is the song, “In anger, my hair stands on end, and as the rain stops, I launch a shrill cry at the heavens. My valiant heart looses hope. My exploits are naught but mud and dust, and my wanderings but a cloud under the moon. Regret may turn my still young head gray. O vainglorious pain! The shame of defeat is not yet washed away. When will the grief of the empire's subjects end? May the soldiers wallow in the flesh of the barbarians. May they quench their thirst in the blood of the Xiongnu. When our peaks and rivers are conquered once more, the emperor will receive our homage.”

To me, this scene, more than any other, sums up the film. Shiang-chyi Chen, an angry and defeated man, sings about a lost empire and lost glory. The honor and glory of battle are only stories from a distant past for a man with no honor or dignity left, holding an advertising sign in the wind and rain. He is a man who is just barely hanging on. Does this also say something about Taiwan itself, a country which once claimed to be the one, true China?

There are some very strange scenes in this film, which are strung together in a very loose narrative. One has the children decorating a head of cabbage to make it look like it has a face. Another related scene has Kang-sheng Lee devouring the cabbage, a scene that bothers some people, I guess, but I just thought it another strange scene in a strange film. Another scene has Shiang-chyi Chen climbing in a tree at night for some unknown reason. Another scene has her rescuing the children from the father who appears to be planning a murder, possibly combined with a suicide. A final scene has Shiang-chyi Chen and Kang-sheng Lee both in the room with the mural, which Shiang-chyi Chen likes to look at by the light of a single flashlight.

This, like some other experimental art films, is a string of long takes shot with a stationary camera. It is a slow-moving film and there are lengthy periods where nothing happens. There is very little dialog. The narrative of this film is almost nonexistent. It's like watching outtakes from a security camera video. What I got out of it seems to be quite different than what some other critics have written about it. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)