Ah, Tsai! You wonderfully sick individual. Tsai Ming-liang’s latest offering is an occasionally hilarious, frustrating, uncomfortable (in the good way and the bad way) and just slightly disappointing romantic freakshow. With musical numbers!
Starring the utterly fearless Lee Kang-sheng as a “star” of semi-professional porn, The Wayward Cloud tells one of those stories about two all-but-mute loners (Lee and Chen Shiang-chyi) with an obvious mutual attraction who slowly and uncertainly find their way together. These sorts of stories tend to enchant one half of the audience and infuriate the other, and since much the same can be said for Tsai’s film style in general, this was obviously an appropriate movie for him to make.
Oh, and then there’s the sex. Lee, as the world’s meekest male porn star, obviously partakes in quite a lot of it. Some of it even involves watermelons. As a result, the movie was very nearly banned in its native Taiwan, and probably wouldn’t stand a chance of getting past Australia’s censors. If anyone wanted to release it in the first place, that is, which they almost certainly wouldn’t.
There are a lot of watermelons in this movie. The humble watermelon serves a dual purpose as a token of intrinsic value (the city is suffering from a terrible drought and people have been advised to drink watermelon juice in lieu of water) and in a sex scene at the beginning of the film as a dissociative device used to represent the abject lack of intimacy involved in porn-movie sex. Certainly, this is far from the first porn-themed movie to make such a point. But I don’t remember any other that made the point by having a man bury his face hungrily into a dripping wet half-watermelon nestled between a naked woman’s legs while she moans in that unmistakably theatrical ecstasy.
The relationship between the two main characters is charming, though not as charming as that of the similarly silent couple in 3-Iron. This movie takes place in an even darker, more alienating world than that one, though. It’s difficult to judge a Tsai film’s pacing by conventional standards, but it’s also difficult to deny that The Wayward Cloud stops dead for no good reason on more than one occasion. Even the musical set-pieces, while fun at first, outstay their welcome.
But wow, what an ending. Tsai tops off his film with a scene you’ve definitely heard about if anyone you know has seen the movie yet. Under the spying eye of his would-be beloved, Lee’s character engages, for the camera, in a protracted and thoroughly discomforting act of what may or may not be necrophilia. And only after this has gone on for what seems like forever, Tsai tops the horrid sex scene off with a shock ending that is both so schoolboy childish and (dare I say?) bizarrely romantic you almost break into applause at the audacious stupidity of it all.
The Wayward Cloud leaves one far too conflicted about its themes and motivations to be ranked among Tsai’s best work, but you walk out knowing you’ve seen a movie, that’s for sure. Thought provoking and shocking, it is a must-see. Even for you, Alison Jobling.