Veteran slow-cinema auteur Tsai Ming-liang makes his debut foray into virtual reality with a near-feature length tale of ghosts, grief and fish.
Wordless and mysterious, The Deserted deposits viewers into a crumbling house, where we find a man (long-time Tsai collaborator Lee Kang-sheng) recuperating in the company of his late mother and his next-door neighbour – both departed souls. Unable to fully interact with these spirits, the man finds companionship instead with the fish in his bathtub.
If Tsai Ming-liang (Stray Dogs and Journey to the West, both MIFF 2014) seems an unlikely choice to venture into the VR realm, he quickly dispels any such notions with this remarkable experiment in storytelling partly based on one of classical Chinese literature’s most popular supernatural tales and inspired by his current home alongside a collection of abandoned houses in the mountains. Indeed, the director’s characteristic long takes adapt well to the immersive medium, for which Tsai has crafted a fluid narrative exploring the nature of isolation, with his static 360˚shots allowing audiences time to fully canvass the 3D environment – and helping ensure the film’s 55-minute runtime isn’t too overwhelming.
"Given Tsai’s penchant for static long takes and deep areas of space, The Deserted isn’t putting you inside a real or virtual space; it’s putting you inside a Tsai film." – film theorist and historian David Bordwell