Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Wayward Cloud


Shiang-chyi returns from Paris (and Liang's previous What Time is it There?) to find there is an extreme draught in Taiwan, and the government is recommending everyone eat watermelon instead of taxing the water supply. Meanwhile, Hsiao-kang has moved on from selling watches in the street (again in What Time is it There?) to making amateur pornography with a three man crew and a Japanese woman. He is using a watermelon for an entirely different purpose. When he goes to clean himself up, the water doesn't work and he is forced to go up on the roof and take a bath in the water-tower on top of the building. Soap bubbles come out of the tap in Shiang-chyi's apartment and drift lazily towards her. Thus begins The Wayward Cloud, an unconventional, nearly silent, love story about two isolated souls inhabiting an indifferent city.

Tsai Ming-Liang demands a lot of patience and a willingness on the part of the viewer to plunge into the well of loneliness his characters inhabit. Fortunately, there are some pretty Kitschy musical numbers set to, I believe, Chinese pop songs from the 1950s to liven up the proceedings. But If you are thinking Kim Ki Duk's 3-Iron by way of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, you are only scratching the surface here. Ming-Liang likes long unbroken shots of divided corridors and practically abandoned city walkways with the occasional lone wanderer as a symbol of urban isolation. And the banal un-erotic filming of the porn-film within the film, complete with bodily or fruity fluid, couldn't be further from his lively and gaudily coloured flights-of-fancy when someone breaks into song. The cocktail is a bit heady, especially when you consider how many taboos are played here for droll comedy. The watermelon as a metaphor is stretched, smashed, consumed, paraded, and fondled to the breaking point.

Now I've been told that pornography in Taiwan (amongst other Asian countries) is a lot more accepted and casually tolerated, than say, puritan North America. The Wayward Cloud is a film which nevertheless seems to cry out how the mechanical and uninspired pumping and grinding of both the body and the city stifles any chance of real intimacy. What is left is a majestic longing celebrated only in the characters heads and not to be manifested except in the most fleeting and simple exchanges. If you don't walk out midway through the film (which traditionally happens at even festival screenings of his movies), and give the film a chance, you can see the blurry line where cinema and voyeurism merge.

Did I like The Wayward Cloud? You Bet.

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