02 December 2009

The Decade List: The Wayward Cloud (2005)

The Wayward Cloud – dir. Tsai Ming-liang

I don’t know if that whole Tsai Ming-liang vs. Hou Hsiao-hsien argument is still a relevant discussion among cinephiles, and I hope it’s not because I’ve never really been able to pick a side on that delicate issue if we’re taking their whole filmographies into consideration. However, while some might disagree, Tsai’s oeuvre of the ‘00s didn’t really live up to the slew of great films he made in the ‘90s (the same can’t be said for Hou). Neither What Time Is It There? nor Goodbye, Dragon Inn affected me the way they did others I know, and I was severely underwhelmed by I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone. However, the shining reminder of why I love Tsai Ming-liang arrived with probably the least popular of his recent outlets, The Wayward Cloud, a singin’-and-dancin’-and-umbrella-twirlin’-watermelon-suckin’ musical about a mute “love affair” between a porn actor (regular Lee Kang-sheng) and a lonely water-bottle collector (regular Chen Shiang-chyi) during a portentous drought in Taiwan.

Certainly, it’s Tsai’s naughtiest film, and I like to think that isn’t the reason why it stood out for me more than What Time Is It There?, which truly is a finer film than this one. But, in the end, The Wayward Cloud pays off in ways you never expect (I avoided using the “climax” as the verb in that sentence). It’s one of those great cinematic moments that defies anyone to rationally explain what it’s conjuring in them. I can’t say that the languid pacing and existential quandaries we’ve come to expect from the director are put to their best use here either, but it all leads to that finale, one should linger in your mind for a really long time, no matter what your disposition might be.

With: Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi, Lu Yi-Ching, Yang Kuei-Mei, Sumomo Yozakura
Screenplay: Tsai Ming-liang
Cinematography: Liao Pen-jung
Country of Origin: Taiwan/France
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 16 February 2005 (Berlin International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 7 October 2005 (Chicago International Film Festival)

Awards: Outstanding Artistic Achievement – Tsai Ming-liang, FIPRESCI Prize – Competition (Berlin International Film Festival)

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