The Wayward Cloud (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005)

by Smart

Almost straight away we are introduced very directly to the two most frequently recurring aspects of The Wayward Cloud: sex and watermelon. An unlikely combination I will admit, but that only makes their combination all the more interesting. Evidently there is a water shortage, leading to mass consumption of watermelon as a substitute. I assume it was then little more than human nature that turned this all into a fetish. For a film so bathed in bizarre perversity the aesthetic is surprisingly calm and relaxed. It is comprised primarily of beautiful, wide, static compositions which are full of depth and rich colour. These evoke an atmosphere that is placid and serene, which works as a stark contrast to the actual events occurring in the narrative. Then there are the few occasions where theatrical, highly choreographed musical sequences break out. These sequences are removed from the narrative itself, but concerned with it at the same time as a kind of grandiose reflection. The costume and set design here is infectious, although it does at times push the boundary between indulgent splendour and overdone silliness, even if a lot of that is intentional.

Underneath all this explicit sexuality there a number of important concerns being raised, especially in relation to political and urban issues. Coupled with the lack of water comes a lack of hope, which catalyses a number of humanistic themes such as isolation and desperation. Our male protagonist lacks intimacy; his sex life is repetitive, masturbatory. As the film progresses it becomes darker and more depraved, and we see this reflected visually also, until it all culminates in a final scene of exploitation that seems to last forever. I found it to be perfectly paced, as Tsai’s penchant for long takes creates an excellent groove. Tonal shifts come about easily, and the quirkiness of the world in the film is both shocking and engaging, even when it is little more than artistic pornography. Tsai is saying something here in a novel way that is certainly not for everybody, but manages to generate thought and has enough ambiguity to warrant further reflection.