Tsai Ming Liang’s Alternative Narratives of Working-Class Life in Taiwan

Author: Sarah Attfield, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
Email: Sarah.Attfield@uts.edu.au
Published: July 31, 2017

Citation: Attfield, S. (2017). Tsai Ming Liang’s Alternative Narratives of Working-Class Life in Taiwan. IAFOR Journal of Media, Communication & Film, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijmcf.4.1.07


Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming Liang is celebrated for his slow, poetic filmmaking and the philosophical treatment of time in his work. Tsai tends to eschew linear narrative and his films consist of scenes, each capable of standing alone as an individual art work. The one constant in Tsai’s films is his lead actor, Lee Kang Sheng, who embodies Tsai’s ideas in his intensely physical performances. One aspect of Tsai’s films that tends to be overlooked though is his representation of class – the character played by Lee and the scenarios that unfold, focus on Taiwan’s working classes and contain a sensory and physical depiction of class in Taiwan’s cities. The everyday of Taiwan’s working class is visible, but the approach taken by Tsai is an alternative one, creating art house films that, I argue, offer an intense and insightful portrayal of working class life. Tsai also blends fantasy with realism in a number of his films, and the fantasy elements compliment the working class realism by tapping into Taiwanese popular culture. While admired as an auteur, Tsai’s films arguably offer an artistic but also realistic representation of working-class Taiwan.


Tsai Ming Liang, working-class representation, Taiwanese cinema, embodied viewing, phenomenology, Marxist analysis