I also received training making TV dramas. I made different narrative dramas focusing on different professions. I got really good training making those. For example, I made one about the situation of female workers in a textile factory. We wrote a script telling the stories of their loves and lives. That's a very straightforward kind of expression. With a narrative structure, the audience would understand and could feel, that's if you could make it well. But before the shoot, I felt very puzzled. Why did I always use the same way to tell a story? Why should I use the same way to tell the story of a female worker? It's as if there's only one way to deal with this subject. But could that really express the situation of these female workers? I felt I needed to think more.
I had this experience of observing the female workers in the factory. Once I saw them taking lunch break. A thousand female workers appeared in the hallway when the bell rang. It took them about five minutes to walk through this long hallway to enter a big canteen. They then lined up for food, and then ate. The whole process took less than 20 minutes. When they finished eating, the canteen became empty again. This image was shocking to me. Oh, that's the way they took lunch.
Since then, my screenplays became very simple. The more I wrote, the simpler they got. There's no need to describe any world because I just don't know. And I can't imagine it. I must see it first. But I have a rough idea what I want to do. During script writing, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the structure. That structure could take a year to come up with. I also think about the ways to express that structure. The process could take a very long time. Each of my screenplays is very thin. It doesn't have dialogue. It only includes actors' basic movements. The essence is the structure. The structure guides me through the work process. People who work with me have worked with me for a long time. They all know how to work with my screenplays, to scout locations, to find finances. The actors also get the same screenplays. They aren't exactly clear what they are going to do.
To me, a screenplay is not a film. It's always evolving, developing. It continues to transform during shooting.
I must confess that from the time of script writing to the completion of a film, I am in a constant state of anxiety because nothing is certain.
H: Lee Kang-Sheng, we have seen you live the life of Xiao Kang for many years. We've seen you watch television, cook, go to the bathroom, and stare into deep space. What kind of instruction do you get from Tsai Ming-Liang on the set?
L: He does have a complete structure in mind even though we only get a brief synopsis, possibly with a lot of meanings behind. There are instructions on actions. For example, with going to the bathroom or drinking a glass of water, there are many ways to complete the action. It's up to me to decide how to carry it out, how to complete the action in order to make the action interesting and lively.
Video and text report produced by La Frances Hui.
Live on-stage conversations translated by Vincent Cheng.
Transcript and video subtitles translated by La Frances Hui.
Asia Society's Faces of Tsai Ming-Liang film series (November 13-21, 2009) was co-presented with Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York. The series was part of Citi Series on Asian Arts and Culture, sponsored by the Citi Foundation. Additional support was provided by the New York State Council on the Arts.