The Wayward Cloud (Screen Daily) review

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The Wayward Cloud (Screen Daily) review

Postby dleedlee » Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:16 pm

The Wayward Cloud (Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun)

Lee Marshall in Berlin
21 February 2005

Dir/scr: Tsai Ming-Liang. Fr-Tai. 2005. 111mins.

Taiwan auteur Tsai Ming-Liang revisits all his favourite themes in The Wayward Cloud, his eighth feature. There’s his water obsession – here figured in a nationwide water shortage, which leads to a run on mineral water and watermelons. There’s his exploration of lonely characters lost in a big but strangely empty city. There’s the ironic homage to Chinese and Taiwanese culture, both historic (bamboo screens, Chiang Kai-Shek) and pop-modern. What is new in The Wayward Cloud is how sex – a marginal activity in Tsai’s previous outings – is now the main focus of the film; though it does nothing to dispel the isolation and detachment that envelop the characters like bubblewrap.

Also new is the feeling that Tsai is beginning to parody himself. And while this makes for more laughs, or nervous giggles, than his films generally provoke, it also has the effect, in the end, of suggesting that those yearning, held images of lost people that turned on a generation of cineastes to the director’s work may have been no more than mannerisms.

Like Tsai’s previous films, Goodbye Dragon Inn and What Time Is It There?, The Wayward Cloud will play most strongly in territories like France with a strong arthouse sector and a small but muscular Tsai fanbase, heartened by its Silver Bear at Berlin for outstanding artistic contribution. However, all but the most diehard fans are likely to come away feeling short-changed.

In the opening shot, the fixed camera monitors a pedestrian underpass intersection. For ages, nothing happens. Finally a woman comes into view; we follow her nervous, clacking walk all the way down one arm of the tunnel and down the other, where she crosses paths with another woman dressed in a nurse’s suit, carrying a huge watermelon. It’s like a film-school satire on the opening of The River, with its interminable fixed shot of elevators. Then the sex kicks in, featuring the nurse, the watermelon, and Tsai’s male muse Lee Kang-Sheng in an unusual threesome.

Gradually, some strands of plot appear: Lee, the watch salesman from What Time Is It There? now appears to work in porn while the “nurse” is a Japanese sex actress (Sumomo Yozakura) who spends most of the film naked and moaning. And Chen Shiang-Chyi, whose “relationship” (if you can call it that) with Lee was the main focus of What Time Is It There? once again drifts in and out of an anonymous, almost unfurnished apartment, in which she hoards bottled water and drinks gallons of watermelon juice.

Eventually, she and Lee meet up, and in her only line of dialogue – one of the few in the entire film – she asks him “Are you still selling watches?”.
As in The Hole, the action is broken up by lavish, kitsch song-and-dance sequences which have only a tenuous connection with the story. In one, set in a public toilet, Lee wears a huge penis costume; in another, simpering dancers rub themselves up against a bronze monument to Chiang Kai-Shek, the founding father of Taiwan.

Tsai has a droll, deadpan sense of humour, and there are several hilarious moments – as when the Japanese actress misplaces a bottle-top while pleasuring herself with the bottle it had belonged to. And the director’s trademark long- and medium-shots, held for minutes on end, once again allow wry little dramas and connections to unfurl, once we have learnt to watch at their pace.
But in the end The Wayward Cloud uses these tricks and tics fraudulently, trying to impose an emotional closure of the boy-girl dance which has not been fully earned. Still, the film will make watermelon farmers happy by suggesting new and unusual uses for this versatile fruit.

Prod cos: Arena Films, Homegreen Films, Arte France Cinema
Int’l sales: Wild Bunch
Prods: Bruno Pesery, Vincent Wang
Cine: Liao Pen-Jung
Prod des: Lee Tian-Jue
Ed: Chen Sheng-Chang
Main cast: Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lu Yi-Ching, Yang Kuei-Mei, Sumomo Yozakura
饮水思源 Better to light a candle than curse the darkness; Measure twice, cut once. Check yourself...Punctuation.
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dleedlee
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Sounds pretty crazy

Postby duriandave » Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:40 pm

Haha! That sounds pretty crazy. I bet Chiang Kai-Shek is turning in his grave right now!

It sounds like Tsai Ming-Liang might very well be at the end of his cinematic rope—but it's sounds intriguing enough to check out.

I quite liked Goodbye Dragon Inn, as well as The Hole and Viva L'Amour. But you definitely have to be in the right mood to watch his films. I tried watching The River, but got really impatient with it after about 15 minutes.
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