Rizi (Days, 2020) marked a return to narrative feature filmmaking for Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-Liang after an almost decade long sojourn making video-art installations. Of this hiatus, the director said that he was at a point in his creative career where the bureaucracy and scale associated with making films that required large crews and budgets no longer interested him. Choosing to create films on a much more intimate level and scope, Days acts as a crossroads between Tsai’s earlier narrative-driven works and his more pared down installations1. Days is a distillation of Tsai’s signature themes and style, where contemplative themes and figures of loneliness, pain, mundanity, and intimacy dwell amongst vast urban and natural landscapes. The film centres on two men: Kang, played by Tsai’s long-time muse Lee Kang-Sheng, and Non, played by first-time actor Anong Houngheuangsy, an unlisted Laotian immigrant Tsai had befriended. These two characters, each at different stages of their lives, are both afflicted by a shared loneliness brought on by Kang’s physical suffering from a debilitating neck injury and Non’s social isolation from living as an immigrant on the outskirts of society. Despite their loneliness, the two men are brought together to share a brief, tender moment in time in their otherwise banal lives. 

Days made its debut on the international festival circuit in 2020 and 2021, playing primarily to online and locked-down audiences across the world during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film felt all the more relevant during this time, resonating with the shared loneliness, isolation, and innate need for human connection felt by many of us. Candid footage of Lee seeking treatment for his injury seems to suggest a metaphorical relation to our own emotional pain as well as our heightened sense of the fragility of our own bodies during a time when an uncontrollable disease was ravaging the world around us2. This is heightened by Tsai’s choice to forgo subtitles and any intelligible dialogue, this shift away from vocal centricity bringing the actors’ bodies to the forefront. Coupled with a series of long takes, Tsai pushes his characters’ physicality to the foreground, replacing dialogue with body language as they move throughout the world around them, allowing us to share in their pain and pleasure.

Days plays out as a partial continuation of Tsai’s earlier film He liu (The River, 1997), similarly inspired by Lee’s real life, mysterious neck injury3. However, unlike The River and many of Tsai’s other films, Days climactic sequence doesn’t pull its characters apart but draws them together, despite the ennui and isolation brought on by the urban cityscapes. The characters’ sexual interactions, and intimacy in general, are a particular focal point of Tsai’s work, often depicted as unfulfilling interactions between lonely souls. However, the sole sexual interaction in Days acts as a centrepiece that brings the two lead characters together and bridges their loneliness for a brief moment, playing out almost in real time. The sequence ends with Kang giving Non a music box. They sit on the bed and play the music box together and relish this shared moment. Non then says goodnight and leaves, only for Kang to run out the door after him. Rather than cutting away, Tsai keeps the camera rolling, the automatic lights turn off and we are left in the dark void of Kang’s hotel room to feel the weight and tenderness of their shared interaction. The next shot solidifies this as we watch the two eat dinner together outside a late-night restaurant as cars roll past them. In this moment, we can truly see that this sexual interaction has ultimately fulfilled these characters’ needs for connection – if only for one evening in their lives. 

For Days, Tsai forwent a script and instead created the film’s narrative by cutting together documentary-like footage of his actors going about their daily lives. He shot these scenes himself, with staged shots filmed by a skeleton crew. This makes it difficult to decipher which scenes arose organically and which ones were more conventionally constructed and formulated. The blurring of reality and fiction, as well as the embrace of a guerrilla style of filmmaking that makes use of real locations and minimal cast, crew, and mise en scène doesn’t diminish Tsai’s authorial signature but instead liberates these aspects through their grounding in reality. As such, the spaces we see in the film, like Non’s apartment and Kang’s house, are the actors’ actual residences, while exterior scenes are populated by people going about their lives rather than by actors playing extras4. By going beyond the constructed forms of cinema and into the real world, the scope of Tsai’s central themes and aesthetic choices, as they play out in real time and within real, functioning spaces, are widened.

Although the scale of Days is deceptively small, the impact of the film is not. After a lengthy sequence of Kang moodily brooding over the memory of his night spent with Non in the hotel, Tsai cuts to the closing scene where we see Non for the final time. In this last moment we see the lights of offscreen cars trail across a blank white billboard like shooting stars rushing past constellations. It’s here that we truly feel the tender, bittersweet impact created by the coming together of these two men, the triumph over one’s loneliness, and the everlasting power of connection. It is a privilege to experience this final satisfaction in Tsai’s work, marking out Days conclusion as a rare joy amongst his otherwise bleak “climaxes”. The film stands out as a poignantly tender chapter in his filmography.

Rizi/Days (2020 Taiwan/France 127 mins)

Prod Co: Homegreen Films/La Lucarne/Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation/ARTE Prod: Claude Wang Dir, Scr: Tsai-Ming-Liang Phot, Ed: Chang Jhong-Yuan 

Cast: Lee Kang-Sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy


  1. East Asia Film Festival Ireland, Days Q&A with Director Tsai Ming-liang and Professor Chris Berry, King’s College, London”, YouTube (24 March 2021): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2poicWpgBp0&t=241s.
  2. East Asia Film Festival Ireland.
  3. East Asia Film Festival Ireland.
  4. Film at Lincoln Centre, “Tsai Ming-liang on Days, Collecting Images and Poetic Titles | NYFF58”, YouTube (29 September 2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UOyyg7PZeU

About The Author

Jacob Agius is a writer and audio producer based in Melbourne, Australia. They are a committee member of the Melbourne Cinémathèque, the Czech & Slovak Film Festival of Australia and Senses of Cinema.

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