Film Reviews

Days (2021)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Tsai Ming-liang’s Days captures urban loneliness via a keenly minimalist lens.

I must first confess that I haven’t seen any of the director’s previous works. I simply caught wind of Days because it made waves in 2021, but while initially researching this film, I learned that Tsai is the director of the notorious Goodbye, Dragon Inn, a film I’ve been meaning to find and watch but in the most proper way possible but have yet to intersect with that moment. It’ll happen one Day(s). 

So my introduction to one of Taiwanese Cinemas greatest directors is Days.

“This film is intentionally unsubtitled”

And it begins with solemn stretches of the isolated lives of long time acting collaborator Lee Kang-sheng—who plays a rather wealthy but pain stricken Kang and newcomer Anong Houngheuangsy—who plays the younger masseuse Non. 

The beauty of Days lies within the film’s mundane realism. There was very little planning involved with the film, with no clear story in place until after the footage was shot and examined, where Tsai was able to piece together the story he wanted to tell. Momentary affection pinched between mundane day-to-day routine.

The movie consists of Kang and Non’s distinct daily routines, in their entirety….Morning reflection during a rain shower, religious prayer in an aged apartment, the preparation of meals, medical appointments, urban commutes throughout the city. Sometimes we bear witness to these instances in time intimately and up close like we’re a part of their lives but sometimes we’re positioned at a distance, across busy streets as if we are merely peeping tom strangers. Non seems to pass his alone time doing rather time consuming tasks, probably to distract himself, while Kang is more caught up in deep contemplation on the daily, where you are left examining his somber demeanor.

The film continues this way until the two cross paths with a planned meet up. Kang rents a hotel room where Non provides him with an oily massage that leads to passionate but all too brief sexual relations. Then the two go on a quaint impromptu dinner date, before going their separate ways and continuing their own solitary lives.

But it’s what Kang does after the two clean up in the shower after their steamy time in the hotel room that speaks the loudest in a speechless film. 

It’s the tiny little music box that kang gifts Non, on top of the payment for his services. You can tell that Kang is a person that isn’t entirely sure how to show his emotions, but this gift appears to be the closest he can get to showing his appreciation for Nons company on this night. Most of his time is spent alone to manage and live with his neck and back pain. So Kang might understand that an affectionate night like this, full of lust and therapeutic tenderness is rare and may not happen again for some time, especially with someone like Non. But who knows, it could be a common ritual for the two men, we only get to see this one night. 

It is still clear that Kang is grateful for Non’s companionship, because the final time we check in on Kang is first on his way home that night, walking up a dark and lonely road. With each second passing, we may assume it was a long journey to get to and from his night with Non. That long dark and lonely road is an allegory that extends beyond just this shot though. Then we check on Kang the next morning at his home. He’s laying in his bed alone during about a 5 minute long take. We don’t fully know how long he’s been in bed but it’s meant to feel like a lifetime to us. As he lays there frozen in place, that solemn sadness is back and you can see it in his eyes.

That kind gesture instantly resonates with Non who plays the trinket in its entirety right after Kang gives it to him. He even pulls it out again while he sits alone on a sidewalk bench after the two part ways for the night. He plays the full song as he sits in place while the world continues to flow around him. It feels like one last moment of tenderness that Non can saturate in before it’s back to his own solitary day-to-day, so to speak. He doesn’t move from that spot until the song is over, then he gets up and departs from our fixed view of him…..the final shots of the film.

I can understand how this isn’t a movie for very many people. It’s way too unconventional for most moviegoing tastes and that’s fine. For me though, I find plenty to explore with Days but unfortunately I feel like no matter what I manage to say, there will always be more left unsaid. That’s the beauty and the beast of movie criticism. But if you make it through the entire speechless movie and it still doesn’t speak volumes to you, I’m not sure what will. 

You can check out Tsai Ming-liang’s Days on Mubi.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s