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The Wayward Cloud Review

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by Chris McEneany Jul 1, 2005

    The Wayward Cloud Review
    Apparently a tenuous follow-up to Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-Ling's earlier What Time Is It There? - in so much as it has two reappearing characters - The Wayward Cloud finds us in a Taiwan that is afflicted by a severe water shortage. TV programmes instruct the withering population to drink watermelon juice, although when an enterprising porn film company commence a problematic shoot in young Chen Shiang-Chyi's apartment building, watermelons begin to take on a different use entirely.

    Filling up the empty bottles that she finds with water stolen from public toilets, the attractive young Chen is painfully unaware that the man she has fallen in love with is actually the star of the porn movies being made back in her building. Sadly enough, the course of true love never runs smoothly as their tentative relationship is hampered by his reluctance to have sex with her. Ironically, she even runs an adult video library that stocks some of his past exploits, too. But, as ever, the truth will inevitably come out. So to speak.

    In a nutshell, that's about it. Tsai Ming-Ling's movies, according to the blurb on the packaging, like to examine the human body - its flexibility, weirdness and vulgarity - and his recurring theme is one of leaking, his fascination for the human functions of excreting, vomiting and ejaculating. I must admit that this last element didn't sound too promising, especially given the obvious, and copious, sexual content of the movie. But, surprisingly, The Wayward Cloud treats sex with either a cold, clinical detachment - the porn film being made down the corridor from Chen with its doleful, uninterested cast and crew - or a propensity to poke fun at it with a series of jaw-droppingly lame song and dance routines that I guarantee will get on the nerves. Quite what these appalling little musical interludes are meant to tell us is, frankly, anybody's guess. We get intricately choreographed numbers involving troupes of singing girls, all hefting their ubiquitous watermelons and, in one bizarre turn, a male member who is costumed as ... well, literally, a male member. And don't get me started on the rooftop mer-man musings from within the unpleasant water-storage tank!

    The female porn-star is made to suffer all sorts of indignities, most notably losing a bottle-top deep within herself, allowing much teasing - but never revealing - photography, typical, in fact, of all the sex scenes that somehow manage to vanquish any erotic value in favour of bland and perfunctory nude gyrations. But the coup de grace has to be when the crew still use her even though she has already been found collapsed in an elevator, and remains comatose throughout her unwitting performance. Whatever comical intentions Tsai may have envisaged with this tacky sequence, it is still resolutely offensive, no matter what frame of mind you are in. And the denouement that follows on from here, which is actually the climax - no pun intended - of the movie, struggles to be controversial and tragic at the same time. But rest assured, it is merely risible.

    This is a difficult film to analyse. Tsai composes Kubrickian scenes of long, intense-yet-vague, clarity but refuses them reason, or resonance, leaving them ultimately devoid of purpose. As a consequence of this, the viewer cannot help but feel alienated. The lack of dialogue is a stylistic red-herring and the insipid sexuality tries the patience. The film teases and plays with us, yet never once satisfies, enforcing a hollow and embittered resentment. For a filmmaker apparently noted for his cinematic poetry, there is precious little rhyme or reason, eloquence or lyricism, displayed here. He clearly shows a sincere desire to shock, to be outrageous and offbeat but, fundamentally, he lacks the integrity of his own imagery, with a series of inept visions that are bereft of subtext, importance or even, and this is criminal for a film that takes sex as its central theme, titillation. Supposedly trademark juxtapositions are ill-conceived and obvious, their logic confounded by his own shambolic need to be avant-garde. Artistry means nothing without relevance. Imagery is dry and dead without a point. This film has won awards, but this is absolutely no endorsement of quality. And it's hard to imagine what the cast got out of it either - studying a role, inhabiting a character, only to end up prancing around with a very un-sexy watermelon on their head.

    Terrible filmmaking and a dreadful waste of nearly two hours. Of amusement only to those who seek to impress with their bogus interest in concept art.