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Pandemic Premonitions: Revisiting Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole

November 18 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Jean Ma


Jean Ma, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies
Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University

Film to preview: The Hole (Dòng, 洞, 1998), directed by Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan

Part of the Fall 2021 Global Film Series, sponsored by the UB Confucius Institute and Center for Global Film, UB Department of English

View a PDF poster for the film series



This talk discusses The Hole (1998), a film by the Taiwan-based Chinese-Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang. The Hole looks forward to the turn of the millennium through an apocalyptic lens, portraying Taipei in the throes of a contagious epidemic, a mysterious airborne disease that causes those infected to behave like cockroaches. The government shuts off the water supply to the epidemic zone to force residents to evacuate; meanwhile, torrential tsunami rains drench the city. Along with a setting that uncannily anticipates the crises of the present moment, the film hearkens back to the past with musical sequences that evoke an earlier golden age of Chinese cinema and incorporate the voice of that era’s biggest star, Grace Chang. The talk unpacks the rich dialogue between past and present constructed by The Hole. It takes the film’s incongruous format, shifting between minimalist dystopia and maximalist exuberance, as a guide to Tsai’s unique filmmaking approach, which combines cinematic modernism with popular genre and straddles the realms of narrative filmmaking, experimental theater, and contemporary art.

Jean Ma is Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, where she teaches in the  Film and Media Studies Program and directs the Stanford Arts Institute. She has published books on the temporal poetics of Chinese cinema (Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema), singing women on film (Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema), and the relationship of cinema and photography (Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography). She is the coeditor of “Music, Sound, and Media,” a book series at the University of California Press. Her writing has appeared in Camera Obscura, The Cine-files, Criticism, Film Quarterly, Grey Room, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and October. Her latest monograph, At the Edges of Sleep: Moving Images and Somnolent Spectators, is forthcoming in 2022.


Chinese-language Cinemas: Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
(Virtual Zoom talks and film screenings)

This weekly series of six virtual lectures and accompanying films is curated by Tanya Shilina-Conte, assistant professor of Global Film Studies in the UB Department of English and curator of the annual riverrun Global Film Series. This virtual series is cosponsored by the UB Confucius Institute and UB Center for Global Film.

To register and obtain links for the lectures and films, please email

Additional publicity materials are forthcoming.