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.