This is the third film that I've seen by Cai Mingliang, the first was The River (河流) and the second was What time is it there? (你那邊幾點). I love the effect that watching his films has on me, in that the films while you are watching them don't feel that interesting, with the use of long shots, the lack of dialogue, and the anticlimatic plots, or anti-plots if that would be a better way of expressing it. The River has to be my favourite of the three, maybe just because it was the first film I saw by Cai, and so it had a deeper impact.
Goodbye Dragon Inn (不散)is confusing and makes use of a kind of anti-plot, but it is visually interesting with the strand of decadent urban aestheticism that festers its way through each of Cai's films. I felt a comic identification with the Japanese youth in the film, in his experience of this very "local" form of culture. The use of inverted commas round the term local are my attempt at trying to capture the essence of the Taiwanese concept of the local that Cai seems to address in an auto-nostalgic fashion (I'm trying to express with this term, a cold observance by the director of the recognizable tokens of Taiwanese local culture, on the eve of its annhilation. The film does not push for identification with these tokens, but rather the tokens seem to be nostalgic for themselves within the frame of the film) throughout the film. This is encapsulated in the film with the noisy plastic bag rustling couple who are eating a snack that requires sucking some bones and strenous effort; the ghostly lady's discarded melon seeds carpeting the floor; the way in an empty cinema or an empty men's room, someone will choose the seat or the urinal next to yours, seemingly not owning the concept of personal space. Cai doesn't seem critical or sympathetic to any of the characters in the film or even to the discomfort the Japanese youth has with the "local", and the nostalgia that the actors feel after seeing their film, rings hollowly as we realize they have nothing else to say to each other. The unactualized potential for love, or at least human contact, between the projector and the ticket booth clerk is another interesting thread of the film, and brings to mind a similar theme in What time is it there?. This is parallel to the Japanese youth's exploration of the cinema and the men within it. I wasn't sure if he was trying to examine the men as he recognised them from the film as the blurb on the box suggested or, more likely, if he was trying to find some sort of sexual encounter or indeed human contact; which was intensified when he leant in to the body of the man who stated that the theatre was haunted. I recognised in myself a standard reaction when the Japanese young man uttered the words "我是日本人" (I'm Japanese) with a strong Japanese accent, and then proceeeded to bow. This recalled for me the use of a Japanese character in Cape No.7 (海角七號). This kind of character which has taken a standard role in the Taiwanese concept of Japanese people in popular culture, especially amongst those who are obsessed with everything Japanese (哈日族). His exclamation of "I'm Japanese" seemed to contain an implicit message of: I'm Japanese, so you shouldn't walk away. We have an intrinsic relation of pent-up emotion, and my emotional outburst is something you should seek.
What I'm trying to communicate with this, is the need in Taiwanese popular culture for a Japanese Other, the need for them to prove that the cultural impact of the Japanese colonial period had lasting and shaping effects for the Taiwanese and the need to drag Japan into a master slave dialectic that never perhaps existed in the colonists's imagination. When the man still walks away, offering a sardonic さようなら (Sayounara), but otherwise ignoring him, we can see this as Cai's refutation of this imagined relation with Japan, of this inferiority complex inherent in the portrayal of the Japanese in Taiwanese film.
The film does not offer you anything on a plate, and it forces the watcher to abandon the hope for a plot or a way to stitch the different seams of the film up neatly. The artifice of the film is given its true face in the long camera shots, the inaction, and the opaqueness of the emotional world of the characters.
The DVD also included a short film, The Skywalk is Gone (天橋不見了) which is posited as a kind of epilogue to What time is it there?. The action takes place after the girl returns from Paris, with the building of the MRT the footbridge where the watch seller had formerly been selling watches has gone, and we find that her character is no more at home in Taipei than it had been in Paris. They cross paths, but only the watch-seller is aware and he goes on to a hotel room to audition for a porn movie. It's interesting to me that Cai decided to add to the film, as the ending essentially added little to what we already guessed, but maybe he just wanted to reinforce that the two would not meet and live happily ever after, given the inconclusiveness of the original film's ending. It's a neat short film though, and I think it can be taken as an independent work given that it has the same features that the longer films strive for.