What exactly can one say about a film that opens with a woman, dressed as a nurse, spread eagle on a bed, with half a watermelon between her thighs? What exactly does one say about a film that continues with a man sliding onto the bed who commences to "eat" the watermelon out? What exactly does one say when, now wearing the watermelon rind upon his head, the man fucks the woman with wild abandon - still without any words uttered between them? What exactly can one say about these images being juxtaposed with those of a blasé young woman wordlessly watching a television broadcast about a watermelon eating contest - happy, wet faces passionately devouring watermelons? What can one say but, welcome to the latest film from Tsai Ming-liang.
Going further than even Tsai has dared to go before, The Wayward Cloud is an anti-Utopian essay on loneliness and despair while at the same time plays at answering the questions of sex and what it stands for in a society that oozes a jaded melancholy from its pores - the very pores that are being licked, sucked and stuffed throughout this queerly erotic masterstroke of post-modern filmmaking.
Manically juxtaposed, in much the same way Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was, between muted anguish and kaleidoscopic gaudiness, The Wayward Cloud is the story of Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-chyi, last seen as would-be lovers in Tsai's What Time is it There? (as well as the interveaning short, The Skywalk is Gone), who are now boyfriend/girlfriend living a seemingly altruistic lifestyle in modern day Taiwan. Of course things are never as they appear. Unbeknownst to Shiang-chyi, Hsiao-Kang - played, as always, by Tsai doppelganger, Kang-sheng Lee - is acting in porn films just a floor above her apartment. Oh yeah, there is also the draught that has caused water to become scarce and watermelon juice to become the new life-giver of choice - a complete turn-around from many of Tsai's past films (The River, The Hole, Goodbye Dragon Inn) wherein water and rain are the very elements that make the story unfold (as much as a Tsai story can unfold that is).
As absurd as the situation may seem, it becomes even more absurd with the caught unawares sudden appearence of musical numbers (as I sat there watching the woebegone film progress, I had forgotten this was indeed billed as a musical until that first number took lung). With each successive number, the audaciousness of their gaiety becomes more and more ridiculous - but in the most georgous way possible. The musical numbers - lip-synched versions of fifties Taiwanese pop songs - which include Kang-sheng Lee dressed as a dancing penis, being chased about a public restroom by plunger-weiding women, campily play out as if an X-rated version of the sugar-coated Jacques Demy.
Of course the very nature of the film itself - especially the über-ejaculatory climax that might even take Gasper Noe or Catherine Breillat by surprise - could mean that Tsai has painted himself into a cinematic corner. I mean, where exactly can one go from here that wouldn't be a step back in the pushing of the envelope Tsai loves so much? [05/04/06]