Sorry, guys, been busy lately so haven't had a chance to contribute. Here's what I wrote about the film.
Communication, or lack thereof, has been one of the key motifs of Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liangs oeuvre so far. And a sequence early on in his latest feature, The Wayward Cloud (Tian bian yi duo yun), only confirms that fact: As we watch Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), last seen auditioning for a porno in Tsais short The Skywalk is Gone (2002), having kinky sex with a voluptuous woman during which he stuffs large pieces of watermelon in her mouth (an act that resonates with the films harrowing final-shot), Tsai cuts to his other protagonist, Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi), who is back from Paris (with her suitcase) and now works at a museum, listening to a broadcast proclaiming that watermelons have now become the new symbols of love among residents. It turns out that Hsiao-kang was indeed shooting for a porn film in an apartment right above Shiang-chyis.
Tsais perpetually depopulated Taipei, a metaphor for his characters loneliness, is now experiencing a draughthence the watermelons. The draught symbolizes a lack of love, or a soul, which Tsai believes results from human beings abusing themselves. As Trevor brilliantly stated, "Porn is cold, uninvolving, machine like and unemotional but not just porn, sex without love is almost as bad. Love is the saving grace for us and although the two can and do mix, you shouldnt substitute, equate or confuse one with the other." Tsai has repeatedly voiced his opinion regarding how porn stars use and abuse their bodies, and then how they are thrown away upon arrival of new flesh.
But the approach employed by Tsai in The Wayward Cloud isnt distanced or cold. Indeed, much like his earlier feature The Hole (1998), the filmmaker enlivens his latest with kitschy musical numbers referencing Mandarin pop-songs of the 50s and the 60s. More importantly, however, they vividly project the inner feelings of his characters: one features Hsiao-kang declaring his loneliness; another has an aging porn star claiming a lack of soul; and yet another has our protagonists switching sexual identities. (The film also features numerous droll, comedic moments -- the best of whom involves Hsiao-kangs Japanese porn-partner (Sumomo Yozakura) losing the cap of the bottle inside of her while she was pleasuring herself with it, resulting in a frantic search.) After watching this film, one gets a feeling that Tsai, an avid follower of European Cinema, wouldnt approve of the paths recently treaded by the likes of Breillat, Haneke, or Chreau to explore sexuality in our post-modern world.
The Wayward Cloud is one of Tsais most lucid films. But since, for the most part, Tsai doesnt allow for moment-to-moment contemplation, its possible that its virtues might get counted against him. At the Berlin film festival, where the film had its world premiere, Tsai reportedly clarified his personal stance as being pro-erotic, but anti-pornography. The latter is quite obvious from the film, and the way Tsai, for the first time, fetishizes the tender body of Shiang-chyi (something I wish he wouldve done more of), it becomes apparent what he meant by the former. Having said that, the aforementioned final-shot is a powerful off-kilter moment thats bound to leave a few doubts.
However, amidst ubiquitous alienation and the cumshots, the film features sublimely beautiful moments involving our protagonists -- who only share one line of dialogue: "Are you still selling watches?" Thats what Shiang-chyi asks Hsiao-kang after finding him. (It refers to his occupation in Tsais previous feature What Time Is It There? .) In one scene, as Hsiao-kang takes a bath in the buildings water tank, the result produces bubbles from Shiang-chyis faucet that eventually make their way into her room while she sleeps. Another involves the former pulling the latter under the table, but even though Shiang-chyis is practically ready to be devoured by him, all he does is fall asleep. And in one of the most moving sequences that Tsai has ever shot, Shiang-chyi takes charge and starts to make love to Hsiao-kang, ironically in the porn section of a video-store, but as she readies to take him in her mouth, Hsiao-kang pulls her up and hugs her. Hes simply no longer capable of distinguishing between love, sex, and his mechanical acts.
Toronto and Beijing based writer Shelly Kraicer, an authority on East Asian cinema, stated at the festival that "Tsai Ming-liangs is one of the very few filmmakers working today whose films can change our world," adding that, "This is not mere hyperbole...." I wouldnt think that it was, because theyve certainly changed mine.