Tsai Ming-liangWalker, video still, 2012.
Photo: courtesy of the artist

Walking Tours with Tsai Ming-liang

Adam Abouaccar
Amelia Wong-Mersereau
For the last twelve years, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang’s “walker” character has been travelling the world on foot. Each of the nine films in the ongoing series shares a single premise: an unnamed monk in striking red robes, played by Tsai’s long-time muse Lee Kang-sheng, walks very slowly from one place to another. Always moving forward, rarely, if ever, interrupted, he has traversed Taipei, Hong Kong, Marseille, Tokyo, and, most recently, Paris. The films in the Walker series have gradually lengthened in duration. No Form, the first of four Walker films released in 2012, clocks in at twenty minutes, whereas the tenth and latest instalment, Abiding Nowhere (2024), is feature-length at seventy-nine. Lee’s journey through these cities is presented in a deceptively simple and minimalist style. Mounted on a tripod, the camera is static. It’s our eyes that track his movement across the frame. The muscles in his body gently tense, hold, and release as he moves at this slower-than-slow-motion pace.

Nearly all the films in the series were produced upon invitation by a local festival or organization. And yet, despite its commissioned nature, the project does not feel influenced or compromised, and any discernible changes from film to film have less to do with the requirements of a respective instalment’s sponsor than with Tsai’s evolving interests and goals. We frequently find the walker in unassuming side streets, underpasses, and bus stops. These are not places you’d expect a film festival or tourism board to ask a renowned filmmaker to showcase if its desire was to increase visibility and visitor numbers. The films do, however, promote their own kind of tourism, removed from, if not in stark opposition to, the rhythms of contemporary life.

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This article also appears in the issue 111 - Tourism

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