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Wayward Cloud (2 Disc Special Edition) (Taiwan Version), The

International - Yesasia.com // Unrated // June 24, 2005 // Region 3
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Yesasia]

Review by Todd Brown | posted September 26, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

A Tsai Ming Liang film is a difficult thing to review at the best of times and The Wayward Cloud even more so than normal. Tsai's frequent use of long, static shots and the absolute bare minimum of dialogue is entrancing to some while other find his deliberate pace either maddening or just plain boring as sin. The exact elements that make Tsai so worthwhile for some are the ones that make him a tedious bore for others. But with the Wayward Cloud Tsai has made a film that divides even his admirers. While it has its admirers – it has taken home some major international film awards – many Tsai loyalists have derided it as sensationalist or just plain messy. What's got them so worked up? Sex, and lots of it.



Set in Taiwan during a massive heat wave and drought The Wayward Cloud tells the story of a budding relationship between a young couple who live in the same building. To cope with the massive water shortage the authorities are recommending people turn to watermelons as a source of liquids and, indeed, a strange cultural phenomenon has grown up around the pulpy fruits. We watch as the young woman carts her melons home and tries to retrieve a dropped house key that has melted into the pavement. We watch as the young man takes a bathe in the cistern on the building's roof when the pipes run dry. We watch as the young man plies his trade as a budding porn star and as the young woman deals with the discovery of her beau's profession. Oh … and it's a musical. While Tsai's characters rarely speak at all, communicating mostly through glances and posture, they have active imaginations and the film frequently launches into lavish musical numbers based on vintage Chinese pop songs.



While Tsai has never been one to shy away from sexual content The Wayward Cloud is shockingly graphic, particularly by Asian standards, but the sex scenes are shot with the same degree of emotional distance that marks all of Tsai's work, which renders them strangely bloodless. If Tsai is intending his work as a commentary on the sex trade – which does seem to be a valid reading of it – then he is certainly not coming out in favor of it, portraying the porn industry as cold, mechanical and passionless.



The muddled response to The Wayward Cloud is largely, I think, a result of confounded expectations. Those expecting a serious art film don't seem quite sure how to respond to the whimsical musical interludes while those hoping to be titillated by the sex based on reports of the quantity and explicitness of it are frustrated by how cold and clinical it all is. But one thing is sure: whether you love the film, hate it, or are just plain bored by it, after the first ten minutes you will never look at a watermelon the same way again.



The DVD

Video

This Taiwanese edition is fairly middle of the road as Asian releases go. The video is anamorphic widescreen and the transfer is clean. It is, however, also just a little on the soft side and the colors don't pop with the same vibrancy as Tsai's films do on the big screen. Things could be sharpened up a little, but it is far from being a bad release.



Audio

The audio is presented in two flavors, 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. Though the film is light on dialogue Tsai's sound design is typically intricate, layering in different levels of background noises to create a sense of a larger world. For that reason, and for the musical numbers, I'd stick with the 5.1 which does a nice job of presenting things.



Extra Features

The second disc of this two disc set is loaded with special features. Sadly none of them include English subtitles so, unless you speak the language, they will be of little use. There is a 51 minute reel of behind the scenes footage, a gallery of promotional artwork, a gallery of film stills, a trio of lengthy press conference interviews, a rough cut trailer, and stand alone versions of the musical numbers.



Final Thoughts

Tsai is a difficult director at the best of times, one many will find intensely frustrating, but for all of that I found The Wayward Cloud far more interesting a film than was his previous, the more widely acclaimed Goodbye Dragon Inn. His pacing will try the patience of many but the sense of whimsy that runs through much of this served as a major hook, introducing the sense that the world could be a magical place where literally anything could happen. Call this a cautious recommendation.

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