The Skywalk Is Gone
Reviewed by Wong Lung Hsiang
Chinese Title: Tianqiao bu jianle
Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 23 min
Tsai Ming-Liang seems to be having fun in making this 23-minute spin-off of What Time Is It There?- The Skywalk Is Gone. The female protagonist in the former film, Chen Hsiang-jyi, reappears in The Skywalk Is Gone, presumably having just returned from Paris (not stated in the short film). She is looking for the watch vendor, Hsiao-Kang, who had a makeshift stall along the skywalk (overhead bridge). In the process, she became a skywalker (illegal street crosser) together with a sexily dressed stranger played by Lu Yih-Ching (who could be Hsiao Kang's mother with a new image and new life, or could be another younger lady who happens to be a look-alike. As she struggles with her heavy luggage, heading towards Taipei Central Station, she gets caught by a traffic policeman. Hsiang-Chyi and Hsiao Kang path cross at a staircase (remember where the two actors meet each other at the beginning of The River?), but they fail to connect. She is too pre-occupied and does not see him. He recognizes her, perhaps, but does not greet her. He makes his way to an audition for a role in a pornographic film (as he lost his job after the skywalk was demolished), strips to his birthday suit and is videotaped by the pornographer. That leads to the final shot - a lengthy close-up of clouds, with Chinese oldie Nanping Bell as the background music, and ... end credits.
The audience gave a big round of applause, cynically, because they caught no ball (especially that the film was double-billed with the documentary of Mayday, the Taiwanese rock band, which should have attracted a lot of fans.)
We can tell that Tsai is getting even more metaphorical than before, in depicting human relationships. Yuan Fen, the Chinese phrase that refers to a special form of fate in the context of relationships (in particular, romantic relationships), seems to be constantly influenced by the macroscopic social and economic situations. As a result of the Taipei city government tearing down the skywalk at Taipei Central Station, Hsiao-Kang loses his livelihood as a watch-seller. He has left almost no trace for Hsiang-Chyi to find him. In order to come out from the financial predicament, Hsiao-Kang bares himself to a new job (not without a tinge of melancholy), just like Yih-Ching who drags along heavy luggagge to take on an outbound train, when she could easily have taken a bus at the East Gate of Central Station heading for the airport. Unlike these two people, Hsiang-Chyi remains lost in the maze of the city, and loses her identity card to boot!. As an aside, the film portrays the rapid development of metropolitan Taipei, with the disappearance of many of the old buildings.
The inconclusive ending (plotwise) is accompanied by a pop classic sung by Jing Ting, in which the lyric describes a woman's unsuccessful quest for her lover in a deep forest but is comforted by the beautiful chimes of the Nanpin Bell and the pleasant evening wind and scenes. This brings the ending a touch of melancholy.
Did I overread the film? Perhaps. But that's Tsai Ming-Liang. Steeped as usual in obscure metaphors, this short film is really a bit of fluff.