Spatial and Sexual Disorientation in the Films of Tsai Ming-liang


Author: Nicholas de Villiers, University of North Florida, United States of America
Published: May 2013

Citation: de Villiers, N. (2013). Spatial and Sexual Disorientation in the Films of Tsai Ming-liang. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 2(1).


Malaysian-born Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang is known for his films about encounters between strangers in disorienting urban environments. His films are also often tinged with nostalgia and a sense of temporal disorientation in the modern world. In this paper, I examine Tsai’s film The Hole along with his earlier Vive L'Amour in terms of his motifs of disorientation, in both the temporal and spatial senses, adding another dimension that I will call “sexual disorientation” drawing from Michael Moon and Sara Ahmed. Sexual disorientation unsettles our assumptions, our “knowingness,” about sexual identity, resulting in uncanny and queer effects on our reading of desire in cinematic narratives. Queer in this sense challenges the fixity implied by the logic of sexual orientation. My reading of Tsai's films as having queer effects is in part a way of understanding his statement that he is “sick of people labeling my films as ‘gay films’.” I argue that both Vive L'Amour and The Hole perform a deconstruction of sexual identity, in that they treat sexuality and desire as performed without cohering in an identity. Tsai’s framing of how bodies are oriented in space also manages to “queer” space. I end with a coda on the transnational queer encounters in his recent film I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone.


Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan, sexuality, queer theory, cinema, diaspora