I figured by now I would have stopped placing expectations upon the various marathons I have engaged with particularly since, to date, all but one of the marathons has been genre based. The musical though, I was fairly certain could only be so post-genre without clearly calling attention to itself or by completely destroying any sense of the classical feel associated with the style. However, having already encountered the profoundly moving Dancer in the Dark, it seemed as though that corner of the market had already been consumed. However, when I began watching The Wayward Cloud, a Taiwanese 'musical' it became rather apparent that this was all but the case and indeed, another dreary, jarring, but no less captivating musical existed in the post-modern context while also becoming its own space cinematically. To describe The Wayward Cloud as a musical seems to be the most fitting categorization as it really defies any other singular naming and the musical interludes throughout the film seem to be the only narratively consistent choice, although even these are so wildly different from one another that such a connection is tenuous at best. A film whose premise is vague, The Wayward Cloud takes no time establishing metaphors and making sweeping manifestos about the society in which it depicts, one that is clearly stuck in a hyper-sexualized form of censorship, wherein the moment any allowance for gratuity comes forth it is dealt with in a very intense and audacious manner. Audacity, however, when delivered with poise and poignancy can be a truly moving thing. I would argue that this is the case with The Wayward Cloud, whose use of musical numbers, seemingly inconceivable angled shots and a lot of sex, results in something that borders on viscerally transcendent. I found myself drawn into the film in a curious way, almost frustrated when I would become so fixated on the words as to miss a visual or vice-versa only to know when the ending had occurred, one that is lingered on in a disconcerting, but tragically prophetic kind of way. The Wayward Cloud is certainly not for all audiences, but the engaged cinephile will come out of this viewing with their sense of narrative completely thrown awry, regardless of how many musicals they have seen prior.
The Wayward Cloud works almost as a series of vignettes, more so than an actual singular narrative, sharing more in common with works like Tampopo, or the equally dreary Songs from the Second Floor. However, there seem to be some situations and elements that can be gleaned from the larger context. Assumedly existing within the space of Taiwan, the country is suffering from an unexplained water shortage, wherein groups of people have begun hoarding water for frivolous use such as excessive bathing. Those without water have resorted to using watermelon and its juice as a source of sustenance. As such, both things become commodified in various ways, for some becoming a thing of sexual desire, whether a watermelon serve as a sex toy, or a group of adult film stars rely on the use of water to add intensity to their scenes. Indeed, the only coherent relationship seems to occur between the porn star Hsiao-kang (Kang-sheng Lee) and a woman who is completely at odds with her life Shiang-chyi (Shiang-chyi Chen), often losing her keys and other items in frustration. The problem with the relationship between the couple, however, is that Shian-chyi is unaware of Hsiao-kang's new job, still assuming him to work selling watches at a local mall and while Hsiao-kang seems quite content with his work, he is aware of the shame and confusion it might place upon Shiang-chyi, thus he attempts to hide the work from her only meeting her in spaces where it seems safe, often centering around their attempts to cook food. Yet, the reality comes to the surface and Hsiao-kang can no longer hide his job, leading to attempts by Shiang-chyi to over exert her sexuality, much to the disdain of Hsiao-kang who further feels shame when he sees her attempting to please him in only physical manners. Indeed, in one musical sequence Hsiao-kang appears to see himself as a sort of mutated beast one that cannot escape his fate considering issues of economic access. In a final scene, Hsiao-kang is asked to do the unthinkable in terms of sexual acts, only to be caught in the process by Shiang-chyi leading to an 'apology' of sorts by Hsiao-kang one that is both disturbing but undeniably fitting considering the narrative up until this point.
While I would hesitate to center this film within any stylistic frame of reference, particularly since it seems so comfortable navigating, much like a chameleon, through the various genres as a means to show their fluidity and malleability even when the subject matter seems abject or debasing. However, between the constant imagery of graphic sex and more than a few blatant allusions to unconscious desire, The Wayward Cloud exists as a surrealist film, one that is also doubling as a musical. There are certainly other musicals that possess doses of the surreal throughout, but that is often in reference to their cinematic style, not so much to the content and context of the various scenes. Some of the obvious occurrences pull from the use of the watermelon in replace of a vagina, taking on a fruit and sweetness metaphor that could have just as easily been thought up by Dali and Buñuel were they not to busy making the same comparison to a sea urchin. However, there are also layered possibilities within other scenes, ones that are shot sumptuously almost as though to mock the viewer as they are taking erotic, albeit unconscious, pleasure in the scenes throughout. The first is the key that has become stuck in a recently paved road, as anyone with remote familiarity with psychoanalysis or surrealism will know, the key is about as clear a metaphor as possible suggesting at once suppression, sexual awakening and access to the other. Here the key is something to be removed from the ground, in a sort of excavation, an act that also leads to water springing forth and bursting into the viewers presence. That which was once inaccessible now becomes a thing to consume visually, however, the water is dirty and therefore undrinkable making it useless to the characters on screen. It is a clever visual demand of the viewers' involvement in the drought by merely coming into contact with the film. The other sequence of note involves the flash frying of cooking noodles, ones that explode the moment the hit hot oil, at times even burning. This sequence involving Hsiao-kang and Shiang-chyi is indicative of their relationship, one that explodes in passion, but like the noodles when they hit another food, or issue of Hsiao-kang's employment regress. It takes a forced confirmation, as occurs at the end of this film to truly evoke any unconscious change. A viewer is reacting to the closing of this film both viscerally and subconsciously and the result is perfectly unsettling.
Key Scene: The umbrella song is visually complex and notedly distinct from the rest of the film, although the entirety of The Wayward Cloud is wholly cinematic.
Buy the DVD make your friends watch this with you. If they leave midway or tell you they hate it, they probably should not be your friends.