20 April 2008

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone เปลือยหัวใจเหงา

Another poetical film by Tsai Ming-Liang, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone touches on the issues of sexuality, desire, and loneliness in a Malaysian cityscape. Homosexuality features in the film as well, but only as a form of desire caused by loneliness. The three main characters, Hsiao-Kang, Rawang, and Chyi, are labour immigrants whose lives are limited in loitering in a loveless city or liminal spaces where they're allowed to live. In this sense, the film offers a sharp critique of how the authorities deal with the problem of immigration that may be in conflict with the issue of human rights.

But I think that the target of the film is also more general than that. City living, which makes people become strangers to one another, may perhaps be a reason why these people feel so alienated and lonely. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone in this light is not different from Help Me Eros or Bangkok Love Story, which portray the city as a breeding ground for such negative feelings. However, what distinguishes this film from Bangkok Love Story is a superb storytelling. Like Help Me Eros, by reducing the dialogue down to a minimum and letting the silent narrative tell the story, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone manages to make us feel uncomfortable, thus forcing us to look back at our own empty life. Cinematography may not be as good as in Bangkok Love Story, but the choice of angles and perspectives manages to convey the senses of discomfort, loneliness, and despair.

Symbolism plays a great part in the film. The smoke that is believed to have come from Indonesia makes the whole city look like a ghost town. The smoke actually impedes human intimacy, as can be seen in the scene whereby Chyi and Hsiao-Kang try to make love. A paralysed man whom Chyi needs to take care can denote how we urban people are left in a state of emotional indifference and become essentially unresponsive to what happens around them.

A mattress also functions to denote a form of both spiritual and physical sanctuary and it is moved more than once all around the city. The ending scene whereby the mattress is shown floating adrift in a pool in a construction site is perhaps a telling image of how these labourers are being cast adrift in the big city jungle. I think the director not only portrays the negative senses of despair and loneliness these people feel, but also manages to show how they survive all these obstacles. However, long gone is the recourse to natural imagery. The mattress itself is man-made and the lamp that Hsiao-Kang buys for Chyi is also very artificial. These artificial objects somehow tell us how far removed we are from nature in this comtemporary urban setting.

However, the use of such artificial settings as makeshift living areas, lonely roads and a neglected construction site does not mean that beautiful things do not exist. It is actually in the construction site that a butterfly (not a colourful one, but one that looks more like a moth) flies and perches on Hsiao-Kang's shoulder. If we take butterflies to mean love and desire, perhaps it means that in such a desolate space there is still desire and love and it can potentially turn this space into a magical land. From this point of view, we can still see that great things still exist. The fact that Rawang, out of his love and forgiveness, decides not to kill Hsiao-Kang and even let him have the mattress to sleep with Chyi, is worth mentioning here. We are however not told what happens to Rawang but understandably we can see how painful this may've caused, especially if we take into account that it's Rawang, who has helped Hsiao-Kang to recover from the beating. Rawang's unrequited love for Hsiao-Kang is sad but his forgiveness is heroic, especially when one thinks that he hasn't got much and the mattress seems to be his most precious object.

Some people may find this film sad and ugly, but I find it very beautiful and optimistic.

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