Dir: Tsai Ming Liang. Tai-Fr-Aust. 2006. 115mins.

Tsai Ming Liang is anacquired taste: either you like what he does or you don't and there are no twoways about it. If you do, then you will not be surprised by I Don't Want to Sleep Alone's static shots, absence of anyvisible narrative, lack of dialogue, apocalyptic visions of a world systematicallyself-destructing and lonely characters desperately yearning for companionshipand love.

That it is all served at asnail's pace will not bother Tsai's admiring film critics, arthousecircuit exhibitors and festival programmers one bit. They will adore his newfeature, as usual, and add more prizes to the already considerable collection hehas amassed during the 14 years since he delivered Rebels Of The Neon God.

If you are not a Tsaifollower, like the vast majority of audiences and critics, then you will join therest in heading for the exit sign, as many have done on previous occasions. Thisis definitely not the Tsai Ming Liang film to changeyour opinion of him.

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone is one of the New Crowned Hope projects, commissionedby the city of Viennato mark Mozart Year and push the boundaries of art beyond its usual confines.It may not be that much of a step forward for Tsai himself - in many respectshe simply goes over old themes - but it is still many miles away from anythingelse on cinema screens today.

The film, which competed at Veniceahead of a Toronto appearance, does at leastmark one change for its director: it is the first film to shoot in Tsai's nativehomeland, Malaysia, where heemphasises the multiplicity of races and the unusualchoice of locations he found in Kuala Lumpur.

Homeless hobo (Tsai regular LeeKang-Sheng) is beaten up by gamblers before beingfound by Rawang (Norman Atun),a Bangladeshi worker, who takes him home and nurses him back to health.

At the same time, a youngman (again Lee Kang-Sheng), lies unconscious in bed, lookingto all intents and purposes as if he is in a terminal coma. Constant and lovingcare come from his mother (PearllyChua), who owns a small coffee shop, and the young waitress (Cheng Shiang-Chyi), who works for her.

In the ensuing scenes - callingthem a story would be too farfetched - nothing much happens to the paralysed patient, save more intensive and intimate care.Meanwhile the hobo becomes the sexual hub of attraction for the waitress, herboss and the jealous Bangladeshi boy who saved his life. No one, as the title indicates,wants to sleep alone.

But before romantic conflictcan erupt, Kuala Lumpur is engulfed by plumes ofdense heavy smoke, blown in from the forest fires in neighbouringIndonesia,which envelop everything in a bluish-gray haze, making masks mandatory and sex impossible.

Followers of Tsai will haveno difficulties identifying here his trademark signs, repeated from one film tothe next. They include his obsession with water or plastic bags, the end of theworld lurking just around the corner and redemption only being possible whenman finally breaks out of his own solitude and has the opportunity to live withothers (one notable absence here is his obsession with time).

Locations, as usual, play anoverwhelming part in Tsai's film, for the look of his work is defined by wherehe shoots it. Here he opts for an abandoned and partially built skyscraper,started in the 1990s but abandoned as a skeletal frame once the economic boom leftthe region.

Tsai uses a pool of waterthat he found at the bottom of the building's central shaft several times duringthe course of the film and also as the location for the final frame, which, asusual, he uses to express poetic humanism in a highly imaginative visualmanner. This time, a mattress, the piece's symbol of cohabitation, floats on asubterranean body of peace and quiet, bearing two men and a woman. It indicates,among other things, how by the end of IDon't Want To Sleep Alone, a blissful truce hasbeen established between the gay and straight characters.

After working with Tsai inhalf-a-dozen previous films, cameraman Liao Pen-Jung isby now an expert in the visual language expected by the director, composingmasterfully planned frames in which depth plays as much of a role as height andwidth.

Unlike other contributors tothe New Crowned Hope, Tsai actually keeps in mind the Mozart celebrations. Tamino's aria from TheMagic Flute already announces the love theme in the opening shot, to befollowed later by the Queen Of Night aria from the same opera. For the finale,however, Tsai chooses a pure-voiced Chinese a cappella version of Chaplin's Smile, a tribute to another film-makerwho just like Tsai, preferred not to squander words.

Production companies/backers
Homegreen Company
Soudaine Compagnie

International sales
Fortissimo Films

Executive producers
Simon Field
Keith Griffiths

Bruno Pesery
Vincent Wang

Liao Pen-Jung

Chen Sheng-Chang

Production design
Lee Tian-Jue
Tang Shiang-Chu

Main cast
Lee Kang-Sheng
Chen Shiang-Chyi
Norman Atun
Pearlly Chua