Vive L’Amour: Tsai Ming-liang’s Portrait of Loneliness and Alienation

As fine as Tsai Ming-liang’s first feature, “Rebels of the Neon God” was, it did not prepare us for the brilliance of Vive L’amour, a more mature work.  Of course, there are similarities between the two films. The first film, about the intersecting lives of troubled Taipei adolescents, was nicely balanced between the comic and the serious. Vive L’amour, too, brings three different people into contact.

Again, there is that dual, almost contradictory reaction, where laughter is caught short by deep and serious emotions. In the new film, the characters are older and the violence is self-induced.

Hsiao-kang sells niches for the cremated remains of the dead. While canvassing for clients, he spots a key in an apartment door and steals it. Later, when he finds out that the flat is vacant, he moves in.

Enter May, the real estate agent who left the key in the lock. She lives alone in asmall apartment and picks up occasional sex partners. One of those is Ah-jung, who sells women’s clothing on the street.

Soon, all three are using the apartment, not suspecting that anyone else is there. The French would have made a farce out of this situation, but Tsai Ming-liang turns it into a moving portrait of loneliness and alienation.

The film is told in images, and the little dialogue there is seems almost unnecessary. In fact, the story is reduced to a minimum, with no distractions or sub-plots. The director focuses on lives that come into physical contact yet remain separate. The audacious but subtle scene of homoerotic masturbation conveys longing and desire and is incredibly erotic charged.

Born in 1957 in Ku Ching, Malaysia, Tsai Ming-liang graduated in drama and film from the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan in 1982 and has produced and directed several works for the stage and TV.