If Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang has placed his perennial leading man Lee Kang-sheng at the center of some supremely unlikely metaphors for compromised human connection — drunkenly vomiting into his downstairs neighbor’s apartment through an opening in the floor in The Hole; setting Tapei’s clocks to Paris time in What Time Is It There?, etc. — one is still unprepared for the intimacy-by-proxy (relax, no spoilers) that closes The Wayward Cloud. And that’s even after an opening sequence featuring Lee finger-banging the pulp of a watermelon balanced atop the naked crotch of a woman in a nurse’s uniform.
Welcome to the stratosphere: The Wayward Cloud, made in 2005 and arriving at Anthology for a limited run, is Tsai skywritten, his stock company (of actors and tropes) made outré and perhaps remote. Tapei is drought-stricken, and with the waters that once flooded the apartments of Tsai’s characters in short supply, watermelon juice is the substitute. Porn movies, in his previous films a flickering presence on the TV sets of the postmodernly lonely, are central (if not full-frontal), with Lee (a former Leslie Cheung lookalike just beginning to go to seed) finding employment in a series of hardcore slapstick scenes. When not thrusting away, he’s tentatively/playfully romancing the downstairs neighbor — Chen Shiang-chyi, reprising her role as What Time Is It There’s obscure object of desire in another of Tsai’s moments of cosmic self-reference. And it’s a musical, featuring lip-synched interludes marrying garish design to drab settings.
More than the songs and the sex, it’s the loosening of Tsai’s master-shot reserve that keeps this reach-out-and-touch-base fable free of equilibrium. It seems likely to improve on second viewing, expectations adjusted accordingly — and if not, it still promises some choice lobby conversations to overhear after.
"A few nights ago, I had a dream that my long-dead childhood pet—an overweight Springer Spaniel named Peppermint Patty—ate my entire novel, page by page, wagging her tail the entire time. When she was finished, she woofed once, licked my face, and curled up next to me on the sofa. She appeared deeply satisfied."