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Journey to the West (Xi You)   cover photo

Journey to the West (Xi You) 2015

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Vincent Wang and Fred Bellaiche
Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang
DVD , color, 88 min.

High School - General Adult
Spirituality, Religion, Experimental Film, Narrative Film

Date Entered: 09/16/2016

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

The reason why I wanted to do something like the Walker series is rooted in my obsession with the idea of Xuanzang, and the characteristics of the times he lived. There was no car, no train, no airplane, and no cell phone. He just walked. He is Xuanzang. He cannot walk fast, or walk slow. He can just walk forward., April 6, 2015

Taiwanese New Wave filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang’s work shows a penchant for slow pacing and long static shots, preference for ambient sound over dialogue, masterful use of natural lighting, touches of wry humor, exploration of themes of disconnect and alienation (Vive l’Amour (1994), The Wayward Cloud (2005), Stray Dogs (2013)). In Journey to the West, the capstone of his Walker series (2012- ), Tsai brings all these techniques to bear on the subject of time, particularly the tempo of life in the Western world.

Journey opens with an extremely close-up study of the distinctive face of French actor Denis Lavant; for nearly eight minutes his rough-hewn features, ragged breathing and occasional blinking fill the low-lit frame.

Then Tsai’s muse, Lee Kang-Sheng, appears as the Walker, a character loosely based on the 7th-century Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang, renowned for his 16-year pilgrimage to India as well as his translation of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese. Clad in brilliant red monk’s robes, Lee emerges achingly slowly up and out of a subterranean room to inch through the streets of Marseille and its environs with eyes lowered and palms held up and outward, oblivious to the swirl of activity around him. Passersby react to the Walker’s near stillness with amusement, annoyance and awe.

Through twelve stationary long takes that follow, Lee and Lavant appear first alone and then together, though never meeting; in the last take that they share, Lavant follows Lee, mirroring precisely his slow- motion walking meditation-- at last, the Walker gains a devotee!

Meditative in tone and visually arresting, Journey to the West invites viewers to pause, carefully observe, and reflect on the punishing speed at which Westerners live life. An excellent resource for academic libraries supporting religious studies and film studies programs, Journey to the West is likewise a fine choice for public libraries where interest in foreign art-house films is strong.