Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Watermelon Sugar

Tian bian yi duo yun (The Wayward Cloud)(2006) Directed By Ming-liang Tsai
"In watermelon sugar the deeds were done, and done again, as my life is done, in watermelon sugar." -Richard Brautigan What a strange, strange, strange film. Strangest thing about this is that it was a big hit in Taiwan, grossing 20 million dollars, when the average film in the country makes under a million. When you see a cover with a girl tongue kissing a watermelon, its understandable to think I'll pass, but in this case you would be missing out. As best I can describe it, this is a film about two neighbors who live in an apartment building in Taiwan during an unusually hot summer and inexplicable water shortage. One woman sits around her apartment eating watermelon, while her next door neighbor makes hardcore porn films (which in the opening scene involve a watermelon between a womans legs). The film is mostly minimalist, and truly beautiful in its austere compositions and delicate urban electric light; shadows and silhouettes are repeat motif used gorgeously. This is all interspersed with scenes of graphic sex, but no more than you would see Crash, Short Bus, or WR. Mysteries of the Organism but just as explicit, where the same long takes which lingered on an empty hallway now assume the position of peeping tom. The detached view of sexuality would seem indebted to films like Crash and Salo, where the body is reduced to a writhing thing with genitals.This becomes especially apparent in the last scene, where a women is unconscious/dead (there is some debate between whether this porn actress is dead or passed out from heat exhaustion), but the show must go on, and the crew literally props her up in a variety of positions so the actor/neighbor can have sex with her.This is all watched by the female neighbor, who discovers only moments before when she finds the porn starlet passed out in the elevator, what her neighbor and love interest does for a living. The flirting and relationship of the neighbors, build up being the emotional heart of the film, which repeats images of watermelon and bottled water, again and again. Our heroin is often shown in scenes rubbing water on her arms while alone, juxtaposed with our hero covered in his and someone elses sweat. They even share an Annie Hall homage, of giddily picking up crabs from the kitchen floor, and they laugh, and they love. The film swerves back and forth between their perspectives, meeting in an occasional musical number.It's also worth mentioning that this movie is also musical. There are about 5 or 6 full on musical numbers, and not merely spontaneous Karaoke affairs like Happiness Of The Katakaris, but full on Singing In The Rain level classical Hollywood show-stoppers if directed by Tarsem (one song includes a crowd with umbrellas).In one scene a character becomes a merman and serenades the moon from a water tower, in another Alice In Wonderland like giant flowers appear around the statue of a Taiwanese politician, in another after our hero is having some trouble getting it up, there is a song where a man a life-size penis suit is joined by dancing girls in a public bathroom. I cant stress enough how genuinely fantastic (from a technical film standpoint), and absurdly incredible they are. The songs themselves are assorted 60s and modern soul and folk sounds from Taiwan, and the songs are all unique and lovely in their own right. Weird as all this sounds, it comes together in a smashingly perverse, erotic, and emotionally devastating climax, you would find in Lars Von Trier film at his most crafty like The Idiots. Goodbye Dragon Inn was so rigid in never moving its cameras and keeping its characters in the dark, it can distract from how formally inventive and cinematically fresh the whole thing is. The Wayward Cloud as a follow up has no such difficulties, it veers between the common and the theatrical so organically its stops feeling strange when the sing-along, follow the money shots, which flow into images of watermelons floating down a river.As for what Wayward Cloud means, I would say its an alienated love story. The two lead characters, I later read, were in one of Ming-liang Tsia's films before, What Time Is It There? and this is there Before Sunset second chance at love. It would have been simple for Ming-liang Tsia, to make a moody little film, about an alienated women infatuated with an alienated man, doing alienated things, which is basically what the film is, but like a true artist, Miang Liang, imbues with a cinematic spirit, through editing, cinematography, MUSIC, and subdued/wildly theatrical performances, that it becomes transcendent. I cant think of any film as repulsive, arousing, beautiful, fun, and sad, at least not with all the gears running at once like they are here. In a way I thought it was a happy ending. The couple has come together right?No more lifeless proxy sex with sleeping girls and no more isolated peeking around the corner from what we desire. I dont know, maybe I'm all wrong, and our heroines tears are from a place of even deeper sadness.Or maybe their courtship was so convincing and extraordinarily arranged that I was rooting for the couple to come together, regardless of their strange and horrible acts.Only one thing is certain, the watermelon has lost its innocence in the fruit kingdom, and must now go in the adults only banana and kumquat, sectioned off by beads, part of the produce aisle.

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