The first scene comprises a single shot, several minutes long, of protagonist Lee Kang-Sheng sitting in a chair, looking out the window at the rain, a glass of water on the table beside him. In the next scene, Kang is lying in a bath with his eyes closed. Again, the scene comprises a single shot, and again, nothing happens. After several more long static shots – a verdant landscape cloaked in mist, Kang standing in the garden – a scene where the film’s subject stretches his neck seems action-packed.
But that is a cheap joke and this is no cheap film. Days is better than that; this is not a film designed to test the audience’s patience nor is it a film that plays tricks with smoke and mirrors. If an audience is initially suspicious, Days can disarm these suspicions with its bold, intimate portrayal of a man in… what? Crisis? Love? Or just life?
From what Days shows us, we can’t exactly know, although in a Q&A that accompanies the film, both director and actor reveal that actor Lee Kang-Sheng was struggling with his health and was in constant physical pain, more, he says, than he lets show in the film. Kang has appeared in all eleven of Tsai Ming-Lang’s feature films and here he does exactly that: he appears. And he does it exquisitely. We see him bathing, boiling water, and preparing lettuce. We see him receiving acupuncture treatment. We see him walking, sitting, smoking. He does not act as such, and yet he conveys great feeling.
The lack of subtitles turns out not to be a problem because nobody speaks, save for a few words muttered here and there. But the absence of speech does not mean that nobody communicates. The film’s longest scene begins with Kang lying prostrate and naked on a bed. After several minutes, another, younger man enters the shot. He massages Kang’s feet. Then his legs, his back, and his shoulders. This goes on for some twenty minutes, caught in one long, static shot. Eventually, the men kiss, and the younger man gives Kang and orgasm.