WAYWARD CLOUDS, THE (Tian bian yi duo yun)

(director/writer: Tsai Ming-liang; cinematographer: Liao Pen-jung; editor: Chen Sheng-chang; cast: Lee Kang-sheng (Hsiao-Kang), Chen Shiang-chyi (Shiang-chyi), Lu Yi-Ching (Mother), Yang Kuei-Mei (Taiwanese porn actress), Yozakura Sumomo (Japanese porn star); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bruno Pesery; Strand Releasing; 2005-Taiwan /France-in Mandarin with English subtitles)

“Juicy surrealist film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A watermelon friendly goofy comical-cum-musical experimental film by Tsai Ming-liang (“The River”/ “The Hole”/ “Goodbye, Dragon Inn”) that has an odd way about commenting on love, porn and obsessions as it explores pornography and psychosexual behavior in its own crazy way. The juicy surrealist film is set in modern Taipei, where the former street vendor Lee Kang-sheng (Hsiao-Kang) accidentally hooks up again with former girlfriend Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi), just back from Paris, as they meet in her apartment she just rented in this drab hi-rise complex and once again become lovers. The film picks up from where What Time Is It There? left off. Shiang-chyi doesn’t realize Lee’s now a porn star making films during the day, whereby he screws Japanese porn queens in a top floor apartment of the building where she lives, and at night takes dreamy bubble baths on the roof. Since the plumbing is broken, the crew sprinkles water from a bottle on the actors while they’re shooting the fuck scenes. What goes for a plot, is how Shiang-chyi will react when she discovers her man is a porn star.

We soon learn through the TV news that there’s a drought in Taiwan and that watermelons are very cheap, as the announcer comments that drinking watermelon juice is now cheaper than drinking water and also comments on how “Watermelon can open your heart.” He also adds that “a big red one means you’re wildly in love.” Of course, this leads to fuck scenes with watermelon parts placed in the body parts where sex is performed. Through sometimes absurdly crafted sight gags (Shiang-chyi stripping in an elevator when attacked by ants) and the stars breaking out at odd times into fanciful fantasy song and dance numbers from mostly 1960 pop tunes (one lively humorous number has many starlets parading around with colorful umbrellas), the time quickly passes until the controversial climax.

Lee’s new occupation is discovered by Shiang-chyi when she finds a comotose Japanese woman porn star (Sumomo Yazukura, genuine porn star) in the elevator. The film crew are unable to revive her but nevertheless they have Lee go on with the fuck scene back in their apartment studio, as he repeatedly thrusts into the possibly dead porn star with Shiang-chyi watching from the window in the hallway. Before Lee ejaculates, he rushes over to his woman and jams his cock down her throat–which excites her. I don’t know who would call that love (since all the characters in Tsai’s films are looking for love and water (or semen) is only a substitute), but it serves as a sick joke that got lost in all the urban angst, existential malaise and erotic musical numbers tossed around by the filmmaker as if they were merely watermelon pits. It’s a weird and in many ways an underwhelming film, where fantasy, porn and reality cross paths creating an outrageous scenario. It’s one of only a few modern films that have dared cross the boundary that separates simulated on-screen sex from the real thing, and all of them have had difficulty in making that leap and trying to justify that what they are doing is for the sake of art. In Tsai Ming-liang’s case, he goes through all the trouble of shooting the porn as a voyeur’s delight to only express his deep, moral disapproval of that kind of sex because it’s so mechanical, not personal and joyless. Well … I doubt if that is surprising, but even though the film’s message is not deep and seems forced it’s nevertheless enjoyable because it’s such a bizarre looking film and in its own goofy way is diverting as it amusingly finds another way for the director to tell us his usual theme that the modern city dwellers often fail when trying to make a connection with another individual no matter what illusionary device used (whether porn or artificial fantasy musical numbers or role-playing or food as sex substitutes). This one is an acquired taste and not for all viewers, it might not even suit those who previously liked Tsai Ming-liang films.

The Wayward Cloud Poster