In long shots with beautiful images, the masterful director Tsai Ming-liang takes the time to create a portrait of the marginal existence of a man and his two children in a large city. They don’t have a proper house to live in; the walls look like an abstract painting formed by rainwater and soot tracks. Father earns a living as a human billboard while the children spend their days lounging about in a large supermarket, looking for free food. There’s no mother but her role is taken by various women, played by four actresses. And a large white cabbage.
Stray Dogs appears to be minimalist and contemplative, but it is a film that hums and buzzes with emotion and meaning. Tsai doesn’t shun the troubled aspects of existence; the worldly keeps us trapped in the eternal cycle of rebirth. But for Tsai, film provides the insight we need to understand why we are trapped in suffering. It provides, as it were, the meditative state we need in order to ‘see’. Not that this ends the suffering, but it is the start of light. Of cinema. This art that moves light. That’s why it seems right to call this film, with all its modesty and staggering effectiveness, a masterpiece.