Showing as part of the Tsai Ming-Liang season at BFI Southbank, 'The Wayward Cloud' is a semi-reprise of his 1998 film 'The Hole', which I've reviewed in the past on this blog. Much as in 'The Hole', two characters attempt to connect during a dystopian Taipei, though rather than incessant rain, the weather phenomenon which Taipei finds itself in, is a drought, which makes the price of watermelons skyrocket. Watermelons are used as sexual props as well, including the incredibly bizarre opening scene of a porn actress with a watermelon half between her legs, which is then "aroused" and penetrated by Hsiao-Kang (TML regular Kang-Sheng Lee).
Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi (Shiang-Chyi Chen) are the two protagonists, who much like their counterparts in 'The Hole', struggle with issues of intimacy and the need to make a connection. Their frustrated emotions convey themselves in elaborate and giddy song and dance sequences, like in 'The Hole' but much more frequently, which are in stark contrast to the sombre tone of most of the time. You won't see a merman emerging from a rooftop pool of water or wearing a pink dress with a umbrella designed with a watermelon in any other film.
'The Wayward Cloud' has received a degree of notoreity for the extreme sexual content, most notably during the film's climax, where Hsiao-Kang, a part-time porn actor, has sex with a semi-comatose Japanese actress, watched by Shiang-Chyi from a distance. Much has been written about this final scene, with an excellent commentary on the Rouge journal (http://www.rouge.com.au/rougerouge/wayward.html). Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi finally connect during this sexual scene in a way that's actually pretty difficult to watch, literally leaving a bad taste in the mouth (sorry). The article at Rouge offers a more eloquent interpretation of this final scene than I ever could.
Though I've mentioned how closely 'The Wayward Cloud' parallels his earlier film 'The Hole', it doesn't feel that Tsai Ming-Liang is repeating himself. Sure he usually explores similar themes in all his films; lack of human contact/connection, furtive sexual encounters, social outsiders, he does so so inventively from film to film. Combining humour, explicit sexual activity and emotional impact, 'The Wayward Cloud' is a unique cinematic experience. 4/5