The Monk from Tang Dynasty

3, 4, 6, 7/05 – 20:30
Mandarin > NL / FR
± 1h 30min

In 2013, Tsai Ming-liang received the Grand Jury Prize in Venice for his most recent film, Stray Dogs. Somewhat surprisingly, whilst there he also announced his retirement as a filmmaker. At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Tsai Ming-liang is making a theatre piece once again, a creation that should prove to be the high point of his presence in Brussels. The Monk from Tang Dynasty is a slow, silent performance built around the figure of Xuanzang, a 7th century Buddhist monk from China. We follow Xuanzang on a seventeen-year pilgrimage along the Silk Road, and learn of his encounters along the way. The leading role is the place where everything happens: the Cinéma Marivaux! Tsai Ming-liang and actor Lee Kang-sheng evoke the illustrious spirits of this former cinema in a dreamy piece with an Eastern tempo. It demands a different way of watching. The Monk from Tang Dynasty is one of the highlights of the opening weekend. It’s an ode to silence, an invitation to find solace.

Tsai Ming-liang

Lee Kang-sheng

Kao Jun-Honn

Costume design
Wang Chia-Hui

Cheng Tsung-Lung

Administration manager
Wang Yun-Lin

Technical director
Yeh Sheng-Yi

Tour manager
Chang Chih-Yu

Chen Sheng-Hao

Assistant director
Chang Jhong-Yuan

Rehearsal assistant
Hung Yi-Chun, Ho Mu-Yun, Gwan Sin

Graphic design
Winder Chen

Still photographer
Lin Meng-Shan

Chang Jhong-Yuan

Ong Chao-Hong

Technical coordination
Cheerly Co., Ltd.

Sponsored by
Solar Plus Co., Ltd.

Special thanks to
Lin Jing-Ru, Liou Tz-Jiun, GALERIES Cinema, Hotel Marivaux


Homegreen Films

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Wiener Festwochen, Taipei Arts Festival, Asian Culture Complex-Asian Arts Theatre (Gwangju)

With the kind support of
Ministry of Culture of Taiwan, Centre Culturel de Taiwan a Paris

Performance in Brussels supported by
Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium

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The Monk from Tang Dynasty

When I was young, I made a beautiful error. Not knowing the difference between theatre and cinema, I enrolled in a university course in Western drama and theatre and got to know such playwrights as Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Brecht. Subsequently, I entered the world of theatre, even though I still harboured a passion for cinema. In the few years after graduation, I often traversed between these two worlds, and only when I became a film director did I leave the world of theatre.

In 2011, The National Theatre of Taiwan invited me to create a series of solo plays. That experience felt like a homecoming to me, although I didn’t intend to stay-on in theatre. I still felt that I was first and foremost a creator of moving images. Of course, I am familiar with the charm of the theatre and also frightened by its transient nature. My intention not to stay was partly due to my passive personality. If the festivals in Brussels and Vienna hadn’t invited me this time, I would have considered the performances in Taiwan my last plays. Now it appears that this one may be the last one, instead.

The monk

The monk concerned is Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty. More than a thousand years ago, he set off on foot, travelling thousands of miles beyond the borders of China, alone, in search of Buddhist scriptures from the unknown land of India. He wasn’t just a religionist and a translator, but one of the earliest adventurers as well as a saintly idealist. His translation of the Heart Sutra is the most beautiful text in the Buddhist world. The legendary journey he took to India was also made into the fantastical and action-filled, classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. But it is Xuanzang’s lonesome journey across the desert that touches me the most. His every footprint is a mark of time and loneliness. When I see the rapid rate of our contemporary world, I do not see development but collapse and decay, and am often reminded of this remarkable monk with his relentless effort and all those years he simply spent walking.


If you come to see this play, you will see my view of time. Our lifespan is limited, and all of us often complain that there is too little time. Therefore, we are constantly busy, as if racing against time. But none of us can outrun it. When I became as old as I am, I suddenly realised that it is not what you do that gives you more time. Perhaps it might be what you don’t do that gives you an awareness of time.

While I was in the middle of developing this play, I moved to a house up in the mountains. I would wake up naturally in the morning and look at the view outside my window – the clouds drifting slowly by, the interplay of light and shadow, the trees swaying in the breeze, and occasionally a misty rain would cover the entire mountain range. I would gaze at the scenery and be lost in thought for a long time. Later, I approached Kao Jun-Honn, a young Taiwanese artist who specialises in charcoal drawings of abandoned places. I positioned a giant sheet of blank paper on the ground and told him, “Here is the stage. Let us draw time on it. Then we’ll have Lee Kang-sheng walk slowly across this time.”


When we talk about outsiders, we typically refer to those who have nothing, including wealth, reputation, status, identity, or even social relations. The whole world is fixated on those who have. This has resulted in a set of values that is absolute. Everyone is fearful of not having. I am particularly interested in the lives of homeless people who sleep in the streets. Sometimes I feel a sense of envy for them. I can’t explain it, but they often set me thinking, what is being and what is not-being?

Tsai Ming-liang

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Born in Malaysia in 1957, Tsai Ming-liang is one of the most prominent film directors of the new cinema movement in Taiwan. In 1994 his film Vive L’ amour was honoured with the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, and established a place for him in the world of international film. In 2009, the first dramatisation of the Louvre’s collection “Le Louvre s’offre aux cineastes”, entitled Face, has become the benchmark for films venturing into the world of art galleries. In recent years, Tsai Ming-liang has also moved into installation art. His works have been displayed in Venice, Shanghai and Nagoya and have been well received. Among the pieces, It is a Dream has been reserved as a permanent exhibit at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum since 2010. At the invitation of the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Centre in 2011, Tsai has returned to theatre performance with three monodramas, entitled Only You , after a 27-year absence. Since 2012, he has been working on a long project of filming Lee Kang-sheng’s slow walk, cooperating with various cities and organisations. To date, he has completed six short works. The latest feature, Stray Dogs , won the Grand Jury Prize at the 70th Venice Film Festival.

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