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The Wayward Cloud (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 14, 2015

There are a lot of things about this film that stand out in Tsai’s career.  It’s his funniest movie, not relying just on his usual deadpan humor but also risque comedy and Woody Allen homage and antics that are practically slapstick.  It’s his most warm and tender film, with genuinely sweet moments between the two protagonists returning from What Time Is It There?: Hsiao-kang (Kang-sheng Lee) and Shiang-chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen).  I don’t think there’s a more overtly romantic scene in Tsai’s filmography than one where Hsiao-kang smokes a cigarette from between Shiang-chyi’s toes.  I believe this film has shorter takes than any other Tsai film, or at least since his debut Rebels of the Neon God.  It’s the most overt in its themes, particularly in explaining Tsai’s repeated use of water as an emotional motif.  And some of the movie’s musical sequences are the brightest, most vibrant work he’s ever put on screen.

All of these things might indicate that it’s his most accessible film.  But then there’s the explicit sexual content, about as graphic as you can get without actually showing genitalia.  And it isn’t couples rolling around in grassy fields while soft music plays… it’s empty, dehumanizing, humiliating, misogynistic sexuality.  I don’t think Tsai intended to condemn the consumption of pornography… at the very least, Shiang-chyi seems to view it as a relationship booster.  But it does cast a harsh light on the production of porn, drawing a line between the mechanical unreality of staged intercourse and the true emotional connection that sexuality should provide.  It culminates in an image that is simultaneously the most beautiful and the most disturbing of Tsai’s career.  It challenges you to redefine your idea of “romance”, and even after a third viewing I’m still struggling with it.

Which only makes the movie more appealing to me.  Hsiao-kang may be emotionally broken, or he may be seeking escape from his soulless profession, or it may be that love is simply sloppy and confusing and this is the extreme version of that.  It’s the kind of thing that you can kick around in your head for days.  On top of that is Tsai’s mesmerizing pacing, Lee’s and Chen’s fantastic performances, the character dynamics, the wild (and often hilarious) surrealism of the musical numbers, the intriguing backstory of the drought and the melons and the meditations on water as a lifeforce/loveforce.  It’s one of his most fascinating, riveting, and entertaining (despite the disturbing content) films.

It had been a while since I’d last seen it and I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up.  It remains one of my top 100 films, and threatens to surpass What Time Is It There? and maybe even The Hole as my favorite by Ming-liang Tsai.  Rating: Masterpiece (96)


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