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Thread: WONG KAR-WAI Retrospective at the Roxie Theater

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WONG KAR-WAI Retrospective at the Roxie Theater

    WONG KAR-WAI Retrospective at the Roxie Theater & BAMPFA
    World of Wong Kar-wai

    A virtual retrospective from San Francisco's Roxie Theater (pay-for-view for all from Dec. 11, 2020) is a chance to review and talk about one of my favorite directors and my biggest movie discovery of the 1990's. Below is a publicity release from the Roxie to serve as an intro. NOTE: ASHES OF TIME (1994), Wong's costume martial arts/wuxia film, is omitted here, perhaps because it was elaborately redone as ASHES OF TIME REDUX in 2008, when it was shown at the New York Film Festival (and reviewed here) after premiering at Cannes. You can get ASHES OF TIME REDUX on Amazon Prime. And these six 4K restorations are available to all of you as a virtual online bonanza for the holiday season.


    It's high time, no doubt, for a retrospective, because those with short memories or hitherto short lives have forgotten or may not yet have heard of Wong Kar-wai. Before Tarantino’s release of Chungking Express Americans had to go to Chinatown theaters or rent pirated videotapes to see his work; I saw Ashes of Time (1994) in San Francisco's Chinatown in a double bill with As Tears Go By (1988), a baffling but deeply intriguing experience, and then went to a specialized video rental shop to catch up on others over time. The pirated videos had weird subtitles in two kinds of Chinese and strange English that flashed on and rapidly disappeared.

    A cinematic icon today, Wong Kar-wai didn't get full international recognition till 1997 at Cannes (for Happy Together), and the majority of US arthouse-goers didn't notice him till the theatrical release of In the Mood for Love (2000). Quentin Tarantino's Miramax-subsidiary Rolling Thunder Pictures limited-released Chungking Express in US theaters in 1996 and later issued a DVD. That was a moment. By 2008 when the NYFF featured Ashes of Time Redux, , Wong was faded or fading as a creative genius. His epic 2046 (2004) was a hypertrophied maxi-version of all his themes. His 2007 English-language My Blueberry Nights was a critical failure. But in his 15-year creative heyday Wong produced this string of imperishable gems.

    __________________________________________________ ________________________
    From the Roxie:

    A virtual series of six restored classics from Hong Kong’s soulfully romantic cinematic sensualist, plus a new director’s cut of THE HAND. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, AS TEARS GO BY, DAYS OF BEING WILD, CHUNKING EXPRESS, FALLEN ANGELS & HAPPY TOGETHER. Presented in partnership with Janus Films.

    4K restoration of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE to also screen at the
    Fort Mason Flix Drive-In in San Francisco.

    Maggie Cheung and Tony Chiu-wai Leung in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

    Virtual Retrospective
    Starts Friday, December 11
    Roxie Virtual Cinema, San Francisco
    BAMPFA, Berkeley

    Drive-in Screening of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
    Sunday, December 13 at 5:30p
    Fort Mason Flix, San Francisco
    (Blurbs courtesy of Roxie Theater. Thanks to the Roxie's excellent programmer Rick Norris for granting me prior access to these restorations! )

    Andy Lau & Maggie Cheung in AS TEARS GO BY

    AS TEARS GO BY (1988)
    Wong Kar-wai’s scintillating debut feature is a kinetic, hyper-cool crime thriller graced with flashes of the impressionistic, daydream visual style for which he would become renowned. Set amidst Hong Kong’s ruthless, neon-lit gangland underworld, this operatic saga of ambition, honor, and revenge stars Andy Lau as a small-time mob enforcer who finds himself torn between a burgeoning romance with his ailing cousin (Maggie Cheung, in the first of her iconic collaborations with the director) and his loyalty to his loose cannon partner in crime (Jacky Cheung) whose reckless attempts to make a name for himself unleash a spiral of violence. Marrying the pulp pleasures of the gritty Hong Kong action drama with hints of the head-rush romanticism Wong would push to intoxicating heights throughout the 1990s, As Tears Go By was a local box office smash that heralded the arrival of one of contemporary cinema’s most electrifying talents. Hong Kong. 1988. 102 min.

    Tony Leung and Carina Lau in DAYS OF BEING WILD

    Wong Kar-wai’s breakthrough sophomore feature represents the first full flowering of his swooning signature style. The first film in a loosely connected, ongoing cycle that includes In the Mood for Love and 2046, this ravishing existential reverie is a dreamlike drift through the Hong Kong of the 1960s in which a band of wayward twenty-somethings—including a disaffected playboy (Leslie Cheung) searching for his birth mother, a lovelorn woman (Maggie Cheung) hopelessly enamored with him, and a policeman (Andy Lau) caught in the middle of their turbulent relationship—pull together and push apart in a cycle of frustrated desire. The director’s inaugural collaboration with both cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who lends the film its gorgeously gauzy, hallucinatory texture, and actor Tony Leung, who appears briefly in a tantalizing teaser for a never-realized sequel, Days of Being Wild is an exhilarating first expression of Wong’s trademark themes of time, longing, dislocation, and the restless search for connection. Hong Kong. 1990. 94 min.


    The whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express is one of the defining works of nineties cinema and the film that made Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai an instant icon. Two heartsick Hong Kong cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung), both jilted by ex-lovers, cross paths at the Midnight Express take-out restaurant stand, where the ethereal pixie waitress Faye (Faye Wong) works. Anything goes in Wong’s gloriously shot and utterly unexpected charmer, which cemented the sex appeal of its gorgeous stars and forever turned canned pineapple and the Mamas and the Papas’ "California Dreamin'" into tokens of romantic longing. Hong Kong. 1994. 102 min. (For some important making-of information, see Quentin Tarantino's enthusiastic commentary on this movie on his Miramax/Rolling Thunder DVD edition of it.)

    Charlie Yeung [!} and Takeshi Ianeshiro in FALLEN ANGELS

    FALLEN ANGELS (1995)
    Lost souls reach out for human connection amidst the glimmering night world of Hong Kong in Wong Kar-wai’s hallucinatory, neon-soaked nocturne. Originally conceived as a segment of Chungking Express only to spin off on its own woozy axis, this hyper-cool head rush plays like the dark, moody flip side to Wong’s breakout feature as it charts the subtly interlacing fates of a handful of urban loners, including a coolly detached hitman (Leon Lai) looking to go straight, his business partner (Michelle Reis) who secretly yearns for him, and a mute delinquent (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who wreaks mischief by night. Swinging between hardboiled noir and slapstick lunacy with giddy abandon, Fallen Angels is both a dizzying, dazzling city symphony and a poignant meditation on love, loss, and longing in a metropolis that never sleeps. Black & White and Color. Hong Kong. 1995. 99 min.

    Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung in HAPPY TOGETHER

    One of the most searing romances of the 1990s, Wong Kar-wai’s emotionally raw, lushly stylized portrait of a relationship in breakdown casts Hong Kong superstars Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung as a couple traveling through Argentina and locked in a turbulent cycle of infatuation and destructive jealousy as they break up, make up, and fall apart again and again. Setting out to depict the dynamics of a queer relationship with empathy and complexity on the cusp of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong—when the country’s LGBT community suddenly faced an uncertain future—Wong crafts a feverish look at the life cycle of a love affair that’s by turns devastating and deliriously romantic. Shot by ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle in both luminous monochrome and luscious saturated color, Happy Together is an intoxicating exploration of displacement and desire that swoons with the ache and exhilaration of love at its heart-tearing extremes. Black & White and Color. Hong Kong. 1997. 96 min.

    Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Tony Leung Chiu-wai in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

    IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE ((2000)
    Hong Kong, 1962: Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite—until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them. At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. With its aching musical soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, this film has been a major stylistic influence on the past decade of cinema, and is a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career. Hong Kong. 2000. 98 min.

    Also Screening at Fort Mason Flix Drive-in!
    Sunday, December 13, 5:30pm

    THE HAND (2004)
    Like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, The Hand is set in the hazy Hong Kong of the 1960s, but its characters couldn’t be more different from the earlier film’s restrained, haunted lovers. Originally conceived for the omnibus film EROS, the film—presented in this retrospective for the first time in its extended cut—tells the tale of Zhang (Chang Chen), a shy tailor’s assistant enraptured by a mysterious client, Miss Hua (Gong Li). A hypnotic tale of obsession, repression, and class divisions, THE HAND finds Wong Kar-wai continuing to transition from the frenetic, energized style of his earlier films into a register that is lush with romantic grandeur. Hong Kong. 2004. 56 min.

    About The Roxie
    The Roxie Theater, a San Francisco landmark in the Mission District, brings people together to meet and connect through distinctive cinematic experiences. Guided by the passionate belief that engaging with a movie doesn’t end with the credits, we invite filmmakers, curators, entertainers and educators to interact with our audiences. We provide inspiration and opportunity for the next generation, and serve as a forum for the independent film community reflecting the spirit of the diverse Bay Area population. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

    About BAMPFA
    An internationally recognized arts institution with deep roots in the Bay Area, the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is a forum for cultural experiences that transform individuals and advance the local, national, and global discourse on art and film. BAMPFA is UC Berkeley’s premier visual arts venue, presenting more than 450 film screenings, scores of public programs, and more than twenty exhibitions annually. With its vibrant and eclectic programming, BAMPFA inspires the imagination and ignites critical dialogue through art, film, and other forms of creative expression.

    The institution’s collection of more than 28,000 works of art encompasses pieces dating from 3000 BCE to the present day and includes important holdings of Neolithic Chinese ceramics, Ming and Qing Dynasty Chinese painting, Old Master works on paper, Italian Baroque painting, early American painting, Abstract Expressionist painting, contemporary photography, and Conceptual art. BAMPFA’s collection also includes more than 18,000 films and videos, including the largest collection of Japanese cinema outside of Japan, impressive holdings of Soviet cinema, West Coast avant-garde film, and seminal video art, as well as hundreds of thousands of articles, reviews, posters, and other ephemera related to the history of film.

    About Fort Mason Flix
    Presented by and housed on Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC)’s historic waterfront campus, FORT MASON FLIX is a pop-up drive-in theater showing hit movies six days a week, from family favorites and cult classics to blockbusters and arthouse cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-02-2020 at 02:01 AM.

  2. #2
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    Jul 2002
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    As Tears Go By (1988).


    Like romance with your gang beatings?

    This was my first Wong Kar-wai-directed movie, as well as his. But he was a virtually unknown quantity at first in this country and I didn't see it till six years after its Hong Kong release. I saw it as a solitary explorer, in a cinema on the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown, tipped off by an obscure newspaper article, in the mid-niineties, in a double feature, followed by Ashes of Time. It was a memorable afternoon, a milestone in my life as a cinephile that hooked me and left me pleasantly befuddled. This was the start of what became my most exciting movie discovery of the decade.

    Tears is where Wong started to be Wong - but not quite. Nathan Lee, once a stylish and bold young free lance movie critic, briefly in charge of movie reviews at the Voice, now sadly restricted to austere venues like Film Comment, wrote about the film in 2008 in the New York Times, ten years after it came out in Hong Kong, when it finally got an official US release (see also J. Hoberman's Village Voice piece of the same date). This will show what people think of it now. To me it was a baffling but intriguing combination of gangster violence and romance. The second on the bill, Wong's dreamlike riff on the martial arts film Ashes of Time (1994 - out the same year as Chungking Express) was more beautiful and even more totally baffling. I didn't know what I had seen that day but I knew I would want more.

    In his later assessment Lee not surprisingly waxes quietly rhapsodic. I've always felt it makes no sense for a cinephile to be any other way about this filmmaker. Lee describes As Tears Go By as "convulsing" "to the rhythm of mah-johngg parlor brawls" and "back-alley beat downs" and "semiautomatic flares" in "the neon lights."

    But he notes that it's the "rapt little interludes" that really count, like "an aspirin tablet dissolving in a bottle of water" or "a woman lingering in the fluorescent shadows of a ferry terminal," even a "modest tracking shot" of drinking glasses ranged on a kitchen shelf.

    As Tears Go By is a unique new mix of Hong Kong gangster movie genre with subtle romance in a liberated, uniquely poetic new style. You've got this muted love story between Andy Lau and a baby-faced Maggie Cheung, with that passionate kiss in the phone booth. He's a small-time triad debt enforcer and she's a quiet country cousin he's not previously met who shows up and sleeps on the couch of his Hong Kong apartment while in town for medical tests. The early moments when she arrives are quiet, awkward, and real. They make an impression (and may be more deeply ingrained for me, since they were the first scenes of a Wong Kar-wai movie I ever saw). But then comes the gangster stuff that Ngor (Cheung) never directly witnesses, though she does see Wah (Lau) all bloodied and starts to guess what he may be up to.

    There's all this stuff about Wah's kid brother Fly (Jacky Cheung), a would-be gangster who lacks the cool. He's a hothead, and also has recurrent bad luck that will have terrible consequences. With his overacting and googly eyes, Jacky Cheung makes the gangster scenes seem like caricatures and they jar with the quiet authenticity of the romantic moments.

    Wong interweaves crime and romance more successfully in Fallen Angels and Chungking Express, and he develops the female characters and the romances better in Days of Being Wild, which also interweaves crime and sensuality in a dreamy and unique way, making Days his first masterpiece and turning Leslie Cheung into an unforgettable star. Watching these six movies in the Roxie retrospective together allows you to enjoy how the same group of young stars got to keep coming back, Wong's own special company of players.

    As Nathan Lee put it, in As Tears Go By a lot of the Wong's style and preoccupations were clearly already there, but not in wholly integrated fashion. He hadn't yet fully reconciled his "genre tropes" with his "digressive, deeply intuitive impulses." Nonetheless if you watch this film carefully you'll see it's already unlike the work of any other filmmaker.

    Watching the 1988 Tears along with the original 1994 Ashes of Time that afternoon on the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown, I naturally saw this was a director who was twisting Chinese cinematic genres in a deeply unique style. Could the gangster romance and the wuxia dream be from the same hand? Yes, they definitely could be, but it would take time to digest. You learn how he uses what Peter Brunette calls in a Hollywood Reporter review Wong's "signature step-printing technique,* his off-kilter shooting angles and a flamboyant visual style that often produces something more like an abstract expressionist painting than a movie" - all of this more richly and confidently emerged right after Tears, in Wong's second feature, Days of Being Wild, when the director began his remarkable collaboration with the cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

    Nathan Lee points out a trademark incident in Tears. Ngor sends Wah a note that's the first sign that she can't get him out of her head, even back home, and reveals that, knowing he tends to break the glasses in his kitchen and will break them all eventually, she has gotten a new one and hidden it somewhere so, when he runs out, he can contact her and she'll tell him where it's hidden. This as Lee says isn't unlike how Faye Wong, the "impish gamine" in Chungking Express, shows the crush she has on a handsome policeman (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) by sneaking into his apartment when he's not there and straightening it up; or the way a "heartbroken journalist" in In the Mood for Love whispers a secret into a crack at Angkor Wat. And somehow it's of a kind with all that talk by Takeshi Kaneshiro in Chungking Express about expiry dates of canned pineapple, or Leslie Cheung's come-on line about there being love between him and Maggie Cheung for a minute when he's flirting with her in front of the soft drink stand at the outset of Days of Being Wild. These are all quirky inventions, partly inspired by Chinese pop romance novels, that embody the style and make way for Wong's "rapt little interludes," as Lee puts it, "that arrest attention." As Tears Go By ramps up gangster tragedy, but it's the doomed romance with the cousin that holds it all together, even then.

    Lee ends his piece with a lovely understated homage. He points out that Maggie Cheung in As Tears Go By is affecting in "underimagined" role. But when she reappears in Wong's next film, Days of Being Wild, her director "had mastered his feel for the eloquence of uninflected faces caught just so in the light. And everything else."

    Everything else indeed.
    *See Mike D'Angelo's analysis in The Dissolve of a moment in Chungking Express, "How Wong Kar-Wai turned 22 seconds into an eternity."

    As Tears Go By 旺角卡門 (Wong Gok ka moon, "Mong Kok Carmen"). 99 mins., debuted in the 1988 Cannes Directors Fortnight. It was Wong's directorial debut; he had been a writer on fifteen films before that, 1982-88. Jacky Cheung won the best supporting actor award and William Chang best art direction at the Hong Kong film awards.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-11-2020 at 01:19 PM.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2002
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    Days of Being Wild (1990).


    Wong's masterpiece is a dreamy saga of love and death

    Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) is, according to the title, a hooligan; also a seducer incapable of real commitment to a woman. Rapidly we see this develop with Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), who mans a soft drink stand outside a sports arena. He marches up one evening, pops a Coca Cola, and says that night she will see him in her dreams. He comes back day after day with a confident line, and she falls. Soon they're lovers and she's so gone on him, when she loses her apartment she wants to move in, and proposes marriage. He coldly says no and she leaves and says she's never coming back, as he stands preening in front of a mirror in his undershirt, combing back his shiny hair and Elvis (or Sal Mineo) forelock. We know she won't ever forget him. Christopher Doye's dreamy camerawork, with extreme, dusky closeups and sly, unexpected positioning, introduces a sultry summer Hong Kong of lazy, sexy evenings. Even in Yuddy's first meetings the shots make them look like they're almost kissing. These images are of a piece with those of the pair in bed together. How the camera loves Leslie Cheung's face! It's like a statue you want to make love to, not just adore. The time is 1960 and he's a sensuous, narcissistic James Dean. Cheung is marvelous: this is his movie.

    This is where Wong Kar-wai unquestionably and brilliantly became Wong Kar-wai. Collaborating with the Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Leslie Cheung, who possesses this role utterly, he made a masterpiece that towers over everything else he ever did.

    Can you believe it? Twelve years later Leslie Cheung jumped to his death off a balcony at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. An Asian-American writer quoted in an essay about this film by Gerald Peary says, "The entire Asian diaspora knows that we lost one of our most exquisite pop singers, most seductive sex symbols, most potent gay icons, and most beloved celebrities." He had made 90 albums and 60 films. It's hard not to appreciate this performance even more given the actor's added glamor of doom.

    Next we learn who the woman is Yuddy really cares for, is his cold, drunken mother (Rebecca Pan Di-hua). He comes to see her and has the servant bring tea for her hangover. She is a powdered ex-courtesan and, he will discover, has been raising him in return for a monthly income from his wealthy real mother, who is a Filipino aristocrat whose identity she won't reveal but he must have.

    For a while he messes around with a loud, demanding showgirl, Leung Fung-ying, aka Mimi (Carina Lau) whom his best friend Zeb (Jacky Cheung) is also in love with. There are great sweaty scenes and mini dramas in the bedroom and outside in the heavy rains of Hong Kong's monsoon season. He doesn't have to work. But his vague identity and inability to commit to anybody eat away at him - or is it simply, as Peary says, "a heavy dose of existential ennui"? Su Li-zhen takes comfort in conversations on the street with Tide (Andy Lau), a stalwart policeman (in a fetching military tan uniform) whose beat is near where she works, another vector in a tale paved with disappointments.

    There are all these plot details and more, but it would not be an exaggeration to say this movie is about Leslie Cheung's cheekbones, his lips, and his dreamy, heavy-lidded eyes. And Christopher Doyle's camerawork makes that clear; I guess he makes it happen; because no ordinary mortal, no matter how sexy and handsome, has the magic aura Cheung gives off in Days of Being Wild.

    Days of Being Wild 阿飛正傳 , Ah Fei jing juen ("The Story of a Hooligan"), 94 mins., it opened theatrically in Dec. 1990 in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, and it's international premiere was at the Berlinale Feb. 1991, followed by Tokyo, Toronto, and Nantes. New York City opening Mar. 1991. It has been repeatedly rereleased in the 2000's, with reviews resulting in a current Metascore of 96 (so I guess the critics agree with me).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2020 at 10:13 PM.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Chungking Express (1994).


    Devices of the love-lorn, some of which work

    As Quentin Tarantino explains in the bonus address to viewers of his Rolling Thunder Pictures/Miramax DVD of Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express, it was made in only 26 days as a palate-cleansing quickie and break from what had become a drawn-out process of completing his highly stylized martial arts film, Ashes of Time. Both were released in 1994. Chungking Express tells two separate stories. There was a third story Wong originally thought of that he decided to hold and put into his next film, Fallen Angels,.

    Quickie or not, this seems the movie that first brought Wong international fame. So it may be likely you've become familiar with this one, perhaps quite familiar: there's a saying that there are people who've never seen a Wong Kar-wai movie, but none who've seen one only once. If you're watching the six features of this retrospective (plus Ashes of Time) in the order they were made as I suggest, this will be number three, after the moody, languorous experience of Days of Being Wild And what a surprising, original and fun movie it is.

    Chungking's two stories both concern young Hong Kong policemen recovering from being dumped by girlfriends. They are Cop 223, He Zhiwu (or Qiwu) (Takeshi Kaneshiro), just coming up on his 25th birthday, and the slightly older Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, then 34), whose airline stewardess girlfriend has just moved out. Both men regularly eat at the same late night snack bar, the Midnight Express, located in the busy center of Hong Kong. The snack bar's boss (Jinquan Chen), an outgoing sort, frequently recommends not only alternatives to the chef's special salad, but that the cops consider taking out one of his cute girl employees, May (Liang Zhen) or the new one, Faye (Faye Wong. who like Takeshi Kaneshiro and Leslie Cheung of Days of Being Wild, was a famous pop singer).

    Surprisingly, since the first half begins with the slowed-down, abstracted step-printing sequence of Brigitte Lim, it is the part shot by the more conventional Andrew Lau Wai-keung, and the wilder, more innovative Christopher Doyle shot the second half featuring Tony Leung and Faye Wong.

    Wong had already hit his stride working with cinematographer Christopher Doyle and the triumphant, sexy performance of Leslie Cheung in his second film, Days of Being Wild (1990), where he first worked with Christopher Doyle, but this retrospective is a reminder that here, Wong still worked with Andrew Lau as well. Doyle's unique vision and the dominance of the visual element almost seem to overwhelm the films after this, starting with Fallen Angels.

    To understand Wong Kar-wai maybe it's best to acknowledge that dominance of the visual and strong collaboration with his dp, together with the fact that he liked his actors to improvise, and preferred to fix a scene that wasn't working by changing an actor's position or the whole setting rather than by altering the script. Correspondingly the emphasis isn't on action or even dialogue but on the thoughts and feelings of the characters conveyed in voiceovers. Here Wong shows his debt to the French New Wave that Tarantino, who himself got a lot out of Godard, has cited as a key aspect of Wong's originality. So is the not-unrelated whimsy, whimsy that even lightens drug running or the murders of a hitman as well as the burden of failed or frustrated love.

    There is especially a lot of musing in voiceover by Kaneshiro as He, whose voice here, speaking in Mandarin, shows how soft, gentle, and insinuating Chinese can be, as he talks on and on about dates, hours, maybe even moments. He notes the exact hour when he actually turns 25, and he is obsessed with the expiration date of canned pineapple. Whimsical in the extreme is his plan to buy up and consume 30 cans expiring on his birthday, May 1st, because his ex-girlfriend's name is May - not to be confused with the May who works at Midnight Express. For all his love-disappointment there is something light and playful about Kaneshiro's performance (he will become outright raucously nutty in Fallen Angels). See how hilariously, improvisationally, he calls a string of childhood classmates late at night and asks them for dates, using the Midnight Express public phone, talking to them in a variety of languages, striking out every time.

    Also eccentric is the idea that jogging, which He does at the middle of the night in an empty playing field, will rid the body of unnecessary moisture and thereby cut back on the tears. It's all crazy, but the point is, such little devices are ways of coping with emotions you can't even talk about. And these numerous voiceovers are Wong's way of stabilizing his loosely structured movies, anchoring them in the feelings of his characters.

    The Blonde Wig lady, apart from a chance to introduce a famous actress in a raincoat and sunglasses at night, an Asian Greta Garbo, is also a partial holdover element of the Hong Kong gangster genre Wong grew out of and continued to play with, because when first met she is orchestrating an elaborate drug mule caper. The whole episode of the Indians used as drug runners, who then disappear, is vaguely distasteful and seems to drift off into nowhere, a plot line that's allowed to dangle. But Wong softens that impression by having He (Kaneshiro) decide "the next woman who comes into the bar" (the Blonde Wig lady, Lim) will be his new girlfriend, and latch onto her. (He should probably arrest her, but he's only briefly in full cop mode in this movie.) She is by now so tired after initial resistance she winds up resting her head on the young man's shoulder and he gets to, in some form, spend the night with her, while consuming yet more prodigious quantities of food, having downed 30 cans of expired pineapple early in the evening to signal giving up on his ex-girlfriend.

    Cop 663, on the other hand, actually winds up in a new romance, linking up in the film's later sequences with the impish and delightful, if quite nutty, new employee at the midnight snack bar, Faye (Faye Wong), whose unforgettable signature is her passion for loud pop music, notably the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin," one of Wong's notable repeated pop anthems. Faye falls for Cop 663, and he eventually falls for her. But what a strange "courtship"! - Her constantly breaking into his little flat (which it turns out is where Chris Doyle was actually living at the time of the shoot), and cleaning it - and also feeling everything, rearranging everything, singing and playing around, rolling about on his bed, and eventually running into him several times and barely escaping his finding her several other times.

    This is an intimacy achieved by the ultra-shy, and perhaps Cop 663 figures it out and is charmed by it, strange though it is. (What people will do for love...) It's also an idea explored in Wong's next movie, Fallen Angels, an offshoot of Chungking Express anyway, with the "partner" of the hitman who's somehow fascinated by and perhaps in love with him but never gets to see him, only to clean his apartment, tend to some of his affairs, snoop into his garbage, and get outright sexual on his bed.

    It's somehow miraculous (and some may think implausible, but heartwarming and optimistic, Wong's affirmation that love after all isn't all pain) that Cop 663 and Faye actually turn into a couple. Thus for all its crime, whimsy, and strange divagations, Chungking Express winds up being Wong Kar-wai's most cheerful and happy film.

    Chungking Express 重慶森林 (Chung Hing sam lam, "Chongqing forest"), 102 mins, debuted at Locarno Aug. 1994, also showing that year at Toronto, New York, Tokyo and Stockholm. Its US theatrical release came in Mar. 1996. Its Metascore of 77 is hardly worthy of the high esteem it's now held in by viewers, cinephiles, and critics.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2020 at 08:28 PM.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2002
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    Ashes of Time (1994). Ashes of Time Redux (2008).


    'Ashes of Time' was Wong Kar-wai's sole foray into the genre of the wuxia movie and naturally a very original one.

    As one would expect, Wong's version of a wuxia, martial arts film gives first place to his usual preoccupations: memory, the irretrievability of the past, the impossibility of love. This isn't so much a wuxia film as a bold hybrid that uses wuxia trappings, with more talking and less fighting, in a style both lavish and minimal. The scenes, shot by Wong's sublimely flamboyant regular dp Christopher Doyle, are striking and visually rich, with intimate closeups that often frame a small but remote background with a tree, a mule, a distant horizon, like an early Dalí landscape. There are a couple of big slash-'em-up's, with men on horseback and swords gleaming, bodies and blood flying, slo-mo grinding, and that delicious, satisfying sound of tempered steel against tempered steel ringing out in the open air amid muffled cries. These vivid sounds make the abstract fight scenes seem anchored in reality.

    Given Doyle's highly artful means of shooting and the stylized editing, the fights are beautiful but very impressionistic; it's extremely hard to make out details. But objecting to that is like complaining that Picasso's women, or De Kooning's, aren't anatomically correct. The blurry, abstract fights are the essence of the film and exactly what you would expect from the violent moments in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. More of the time however involves two people sitting at a table drinking wine, some with alleged power to erase memory and restart a man's life, poured from large jars into small shallow bowls and eagerly quaffed.

    Naturally, those who meet here to drink and chat are lonely people with love-longings, deep hurts, and communication difficulties, in their own heads a lot and tending to the enigmatic utterance. Sometimes they get drunk and reveal things or make promises they can be held to on pain of death, like the Anglo-Saxons in their mead halls. As usual with Wong there are lengthy voiceovers.

    In this framework, desire and promises lead to a danger of death by the blade. The storyline, with its multiple flashbacks and sometimes enigmatic utterances, isn't easy to follow on the first viewing - or on the tenth, though the mystery may explain why this is particularly a movie that continues to entrance and bemuse in successive viewings.

    It consists of a series of subplots laid out in haiku-like vignettes. The central character and narrator, who links the five chapters, is Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung, playing, as before, with great presence and ease), who is a sort of broker for assassins at a remote outpost to which he has come from his home on White Camel Mountain. He arranges martial arts tasks for people who, let's say. . . want things done, for a fee. In flashbacks, when he is younger, we see him operating in this desert place (which Christopher Doyle has said was the toughest shoot he'd ever had). This stark, dramatic setting contributes enormously to the distinctive look of the whole film.

    Much of the action is out of doors. An important, and fabulous, character is Mu-rong Yin (Brigitte Lin), who sometimes goes by Mu-rong Yang, impersonating a man, her brother; so Yin and Yang, a two-sexed dual personality. Mu-rong Yin is unhappy because she has been rejected by Huang Yao-shi (Tony Leung Ka-fai). Here's one of the enigmatic details: Mu-rong Yang wants Huang offed for jilting his sister, Yin, the female alter ego, but Yin herself is dead set against this. But wait! The person Yin wants killed is her brother! "You two have an odd relationship," says Ouyang Feng, coldly considering the economics. Huang Yao-shi is, in fact, a friend of Ouyang Feng's who visits him, usually, every spring. This one year, in a decisive early scene, he brings a very special wine of forgetfulness - an allusion to the pain and impossibility of the past. It seems to work. But losing your past is dangerous.

    There is a gang of horse thieves Ouyang Feng decides must be eliminated - risky venture, and the chance for a gorgeously messy battle scene. There is the beautiful creature known only as The Woman (Maggie Cheung, exquisitely refined since her appearances in Wong's first first two films), who is the love of Ouyang Feng's life. But he lost her. He says it was because his profession was too dangerous for her. She says it happened because he was too proud to propose . While he was away she decided to marry his brother out of spite, a fait accompli he discovered on returning home some time later. It was a gesture that caused grief to all concerned.

    Tony Leung Chiu-wai is, or becomes, a Blind Swordsman. It's while staying overnight with Ouyang that we see him finally lose his sight - just before a major sword fight. Ouyang gives a meal to a ragged and hungry young swordsman, Hong-Qi (or Hung Chi) (Jacky Cheung), and plans on using him. He's a great swordsman, even if (a quirky Wong detail, narrated this way) he has the bad habit of running around barefoot. Ouyang has to get him some shoes. Properly shod swordsmen, he explains, bring a much higher price than the barefoot kind. Always there are the handsome men with the robes, the mustaches and long flowing hair, the lovelorn women, the wine, the musings, the horses and camels against a tiny far-off horizon. It's an intoxicating effect, making you feel hypnotized and not caring that it's all a bit vague.

    This beautiful, garrulous riff on wuxia took Wong a year to finish. As we know the delays led him to break off for a while and make Chungking Express in only 26 days, Quentin Tarantino suggests as a refreshing palate cleanser. After all the effort of Ashes of Time, the film didn't get the attention it deserved internationally except for in France, and was seen elsewhere only in Chinatown theaters. Later the negatives had deteriorated, and different versions turned out to be in use. A problem was that this had been Wong's first film to be released by his own fledgling production company, Jet Tone, and he wasn't able to issue it in the quality he'd have liked. For all these reasons Wong sought to give the film a new life in a definitive version through reediting from various found negatives (one from San Francisco's Chinatown where I originally saw it), and a thoroughgoing reedit and reissue, Ashes of Time Redux, resulted in 2008.

    It's not so easy to compare the two versions frame by frame in person, since copies of the original one are hard to come by in the US. But we know that in Redux, though it was made from the old films, and still based on a prequel conception of The Legend of the Eagle Shooting Heroes by Louis Cha, there are significant changes. Redux, which I reviewed at the time it was shown in the 2008 NYFF, has alternative footage and changes in the order of scenes. It has new opening titles and new fade-ins for the seasons that designate the film's chapters. (Ouyang's words about directions and almanac predictions add to the film's slow pace and archaic flavor.) Redux also has a new color-scheme, because the images have been heavily, lovingly, reprocessed; and a new soundtrack has been added with a new score or "re-arrangement" by Wu Tong with cello solos by Yo Yo Ma. Redux is seven minutes shorter. A martial arts battle scene at the outset has been cut. YouTube has an earlier version of a continuous six-minute scene of Maggie Cheung. Here the monologue is a bit corny, but the shot, with the deep tones and her pale skin, is striking and beautiful, and remains.

    Awkward elements of the new version are the pumped-up color (inspired by the faded color of the old prints) and some editing-out of elements from landscape scenes, which Christopher Doyle has said he did not authorize. I made some comments on this in an online discussion when Redux came out. In either form, this is a treasure for devotees, but may baffle some who like his other films.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 03:36 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Fallen Angels (1995).


    "Chungking Express' lonely oddball cousin

    As Quentin Tarantino tells us in the comments at the end of his Miramax/Rolling Thunder edition DVD of Chungking Express, Wong made the latter as a way of unwinding and taking a break during the long process of making his Ashes of Time. (Both came out in the same year, 1994.) Ashes of Time is a highly wrought and complicated and unique kind of wuxia/historical martial arts movie, and it was really taking a long time to finish. Chungking Express is light and improvisational. Wong had a good time making it and it really cleared his head to go back and finish Ashes of Time. Just as Chungking Express is a sort of offshoot of Ashes of Time, Fallen Angels is an offshoot of Chungking Express. Chungking Express was meant to be made up of three stories. But, Wong decided two stories were enough; they're the two halves focused on the two lovelorn policemen, Cop 663 (Tony Leung) and Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Wong Kar-Wai has declared "Chungking Express and Fallen Angels together are the bright and dark of Hong Kong." The intoxicating beauty of this film dominated Wong's work from here on.

    The third story that went into next year's film, Fallen Angels, is about a professional hitman, Wong Chi-Ming, played by Leon Lai-ming, who, like Faye Lin of Chungking Express, is a pop singer (he's been in a lot more films). This story branches out, and there's the alternate story of He Zhiwu, a wild mute misfit played by Cop 223 of Chungking, Takeshi Kaneshiro - and you will see some playful references to his other identity: same name, and this one was once "prisoner 223"; and and it was after eating a can of expired pineapple as a small child that "I stopped talking." The hitman has an unnamed "agent" or "partner" he never sees, played by Michelle Reis. Glamorous, sexy, and yet lonely and sad, she wears glam, sexy clothes and lots of lipstick when she cleans, and she masturbates, in two gorgeous scenes, lying on the hitman's bed. She comes and cleans his flat and tends to his affairs only when he's out, yet somehow this relationship is all-important to her. All three of the main characters, the hitman, his "partner' and He Zhiwu, have their own voiceovers describing their separate alternately colorful, strange, glamorous, dangerous, and lonely lives.

    A variety of disparate scenes dominate Fallen Angels that never come together, but that is the point. Though one of Michelle Reis' voiceovers near the end remarks how you run into everybody sometime, these are lonely strangers who pass in the night. Only at the very end Reis hitches a ride with He Zhiwu (who she theorizes she may have seen before more than once, but doesn't know) out of a fast food joint on his motorcycle. "Actually," her voiceover says, "I hadn't been that close to anyone for a while...But at that moment, I felt such warmth." That's where the movie ends, that one little moment of lovely, wordless warmth.

    Think of the hitman and his partner who never meet, and who go out at night - as does the mute guy, a raucous outcast. The images by Christopher Doyle are dark, colorful, angular, beautiful, and sometimes sad, "the dark of Hong Kong." There are some violent scenes in dives like the mah-johngg parlors and restaurant of As Tears Go By, but, thanks largely to dp Doyle and elaborate editing techniques, they're both more violent and much more stylized, with ultra slo-mo or Wong's step-printing technique combining to turn the chaotic action as the hitman's two pistols blaze into an abstract-expressionist blur, music unifying the gun blasts and sounds of crashing glass in the prettiest, most remote violence you've ever seen. Wong comes a long way here from the relatively conventional violent, more genre-style scenes of As Tears Go By. This is a gorgeous stylishness that to some may seem alienating and very strange, but to the cinephile can hardly fail to delight for its own sake.

    Certain scenes of Fallen Angels especially linger in the memory. The hitman's flat seems to be beside a train line, and appropriately narrow and elongated. Everything is long, tilted, and angular, the fish-eye lens images shifting to tilt first down to the right, then down to the left. These lonely, alienated images of urban night are extraordinarily glamorous and beautiful. In the squinched-in confines of the hitman's long, narrow flat, Reis, the hitman's partner/agent busily tidies up, going over the hitman's trash meticulously to find out about him. (As her voiceover explains: with these lonely, isolated people, the voiceovers become essential for us to know them.)

    Meanwhile, He Zhiwu is leading a manic nocturnal existence busily invading and temporarily taking over other people's businesses late at night. We see him forcing a shampoo and a shave on someone at a barber shop; forcing a huge vegetable on a lady in a produce market; in a laundromat doing someone's clothes against his will; or most memorably, force-feeding people from an ice-cream truck and treating an entire family, the children eager, the adults not. This impishness, with its parallel in the invasive house-cleanings of Faye Wong in Chungking Express, surely owes a lot to Takeshi Kaneshiro's own personality: we see how playful and silly he can be and how much he likes improvising in Chungking Express, where he makes being jilted into a comedy routine. Kaneshiro is an incredible star, half Taiwanese and half Japanese by birth and fluent in Mandarin but also a Cantonese and Japanese speaker, he is impossibly good-looking and boyish from birth, it would appear. He began as a teen idol but became a devastatingly handsome costume epic star a decade later in Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers. But he seems most unique and engaging here, though his kookiness is passive-aggressive, to be sure, and totally a thing of improvisation in a variety of late-night real-life sets. Kaneshiro starred in nine movies in 1995. This is the keeper, though.

    Wong Chhi-ming (Leon Lai) is always seen dressed with a cut-down undershirt under a dress jacket and a gold necklace that gives him an incongruously effete and feminine air. Nothing can compare with the first kill sequence, also memorable, when he bursts into a restaurant and murders most of the customers - and then takes a bus home. On the bus, he's spotted by a high school classmate and shyly looks away, toward the camera, while this classmate hovers behind, chattering about this and that, inviting him to his impending wedding and offering to sell him top quality life insurance at a bargain rate. Hitman Wong shows the man a photo of his black "wife" and "child," both, he explains to us casually in voiceover, shots he hired people to pose for, for use in occasions just like this. He has no family. He doubts, confidentially, that an insurance company would provide coverage for a professional hitman. Indeed, he is not a good risk. Wong also points out his work is sporadic; he has to take debt enforcement jobs sometimes, and might otherwise have months of no work. This playful humor suggests that the mass murder scenes aren't to be taken too seriously either, are just playful riffs on the Hong Kong gangster movie style.

    Days of Being Wild, when Wong Kar-wai unquestionably became Wong, is almost all sad romance; gunshots are used sparingly. Fallen Angels, like Chungking Express, reintroduces a crime element. The people in Fallen Angels are lonely misfits. But they're busy. And they're not complaining. Next, Wong was going to make a movie whose loneliness is much more intimate, and more becalmed: the doomed gay romance Happy Together.

    Of course anthemic, emotional pop songs continue to be important here, as "California Dreamin'" is in Chungking Express and other songs are in Happy Together. Songs express emotions and convey decisions. The hitman can't meet with his "partner" to tell her he's dissolving their bond: he sends her to a bar jukebox to listen to "1818," which opens with the words "Forget him." The final song is Yazoo's "Only You."

    I haven't even mentioned Charlie Yeung, and Karen Mok. They are would-be girlfriends for the hitman and the mute, who don't quite work out... but: see the movie.

    Fallen Angels, 墮落天使 (Do Lok Tin si, "Fallen Angel") 99 mins., came out between Ashes of Time and Happy Together . It debuted at Toronto Sept. 1995; it showed at Berlin Feb. 1996, Oslo Nov. 1996; and in the NYFF Oct. 1997. It has a US theatrical release Jan. 30, 1998. Kevin Thomas wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "An exhilarating rush of a movie, with all manner of go-for-broke visual bravura that expresses perfectly the free spirits of his bold young people." Metascore 71.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 02:16 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Happy Together (1997).


    Last tango in Buenos Aires - a new direction and new recognition

    The earlier Wong Kar-wai films focused on romantic desire, longing, or frustration, loneliness or fleeting relationships. Happy Together shifts to a couple who've been together a while and are having problems, but can't seem to split up for long. For this turbulent gay love story Wong boldly used Leslie Cheung and Tony Chiu-wai Leung, two of the biggest Hong Kong male stars (Leung definitely straight), showing them passionately making out on a little bed in the very first scene. And Wong reportedly shot that first scene first, rubbing the actors' noses in the unaccustomed gay subject matter (unaccustomed at least for Leung). Maybe to get that out of the way, as some have suggested; but it's not the last gay sex glimpsed on screen. In this film, though, the physical side isn't so much the point. It's the emotional involvement of Po-wing (Cheung) and Yiu-fai (Leung) that counts. It's over but it's not over. It may have turned into nothing but care-taking and fighting, but the hold is as strong as ever.

    The painfully back-and-forth of the relationship between sensuous, promiscuous Po-wing (Cheung) and responsible Yiu-fai (Leung) is underlined by the way Christopher Doyle's images shift back and forth between black and white and color. The scene-shifts are jerky; they jerk us around.

    Wong Kar-wai temporarily avoided the issue of the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule by shooting his 1997 feature abroad, in Buenos Aires, a location the director comfortably makes his own, even if his characters are aliens in it. The relentless, melancholy tango music of Astor Piazolla resounds throughout (and indeed, we get to see the principals tango together) - as does, later on, a Hong Kong rendition of the Turtles' song "Happy Together." Wong knew homosexuality would not fare well under the new regime so he took this last chance to make a film about that theme, treating gay love as a relentless "can't live with you, can't live without you" relationship that makes that title ironic.

    Another irony is that Wong tones down his relationship with the brilliant, bold dp Christopher Doyle with a film of more straightforward (if still often gorgeous) images, and drops the fanciful double plot structures of his last two films in favor of the simple, linear one of the life abroad of three men (and no women). Yet somehow it's perhaps even harder for the viewer to get a foothold in this world that's so concretely depicted, in these scenes that are so simple, even as they evoke every turbulent relationship you may have ever had.

    Yet the world is a concrete one of little shabby rooms. Wong's films have reveled in such rooms from the start, but never more tiny and shabby than the one Yiu-fai occupies after he and Po-wing break up - where Po-wing joins him after one brawl too many when he's helpless, with bandaged hands, jammed with a ghetto style crowd in the hallway below where people cook and there is the only phone. The lived-in quality of this setting reflects the extended time spend filming in Argentina, which was supposed to be brief but extended to four months.

    Vivid also is the tiny tango bar where Yiu-fai works as a doorman in evening clothes, munching sandwiches or quaffing from flasks of liquor as he stands outside in the cold. It's here that Po-wing reappears by chance, arriving in cars with new male conquests or clients. As before, Leslie Cheung effortlessly exudes sensuousness and profligacy. Tony Leung is the orderly, hard-working one, but also a man who drinks and has a temper. We don't see what he does to end his employment at the bar, but it's violent.

    One thing that threads the repetitious, believably going-nowhere narrative together is the couple's project, failed at the start, never abandoned, to visit a famous location, the Iguazu Falls, depicted on a cheap revolving lamp they had in the first tiny Argentine room, which Yiu-fai keeps. It's the objective correlative of the longing for a happy moment that can never be. But the real thread is the little room with the bed on one side and sofa on the other. When Yiu-fai is caring for Po-wing with the bandaged hands, they fight over who'll sleep on which. The secret is Yiu-fai never wants Po-wing to leave. All this is mostly from Yiu-fai's point of view. He thinks this is their happiest time. He hides Po-wing's passport.

    After the tango bar Yiu-fai works in a kitchen. He becomes the only friend of a young twentyish Taiwanese guy, Chang (Chen Chang, who starred in Edward Yang's autobiographical A Brighter Summer Day at fifteen). They drink together and the intuitive kid hears in his voice the sadness Yiu-fai denies. They seem happy playing ball with other Chinese kitchen staff outside the restaurant and it's Decenber, therefore summertime, which Yiu-fai says passes quickly. But not quickly enough: he takes another night job at a slaughterhouse to save money and avoid the now lonely room, for Po-wing has escaped. Apparently Yiu-fai and Po-wing are not going to meet again. Yiu-fai goes to see Iguazu and views the falls alone. Chang has left to visit an extreme southernmost point where he's promised to leave Yiu-fai's sadness. Po-wing enters the old room, empty of his lover now, and weeps. Lots of touching little details here. The friendship of Chang and Yiu-fai is heartbreaking.

    This first Wong film about an established relationship is the loneliest and saddest but the most touching so far. This film brought Wong the greatest international recognition he'd yet had. Yet some Anglo critics dismissed it as too plotless. It arouses mixed reactions in me. It's not as fun as the earlier films, or as glorious visually - despite Doyle's ability to make the most ordinary locations evocative and fresh.

    On the other hand, this is more about grown-up experience than what has come before. But I feel dissatisfied, as is Mike D'Angelo, who has said Happy Together has all the elements he loves in Wong, the moody characters, lovely images, free structure, but irritates him by substituting the romantic yearning with endless squabbling. It's not quite that simple but that's kind of true nonetheless. As a gay person I have to be grateful for this movie from my cinematic idol, but I find Leslie Cheung more interesting in Days of Being Wild, where he's central, than Tony Leung, who's the lonely, reliable guy who dominates here.

    Happy Together 春光乍洩 (Chun gwong cha sit, "Bright spring," the Chinese title reportedly an allusion - ironic? - to the Handover), 98mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 1997, winning Wong the directing prize. Viewed on a screener of the 4K restoration "undertaken from the original 35mm camera negative by the Criterion Collection, in collaboration with Jet Tone Films, with l'Immagine Ritrovata and One Cool," approved by Wong Kar-wai. To be shown in a series of six 4K restorations of Wong Kar-wai films in virtual theater from Dec. 11 2020 by Roxie Theater and BAM/PFA.


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 02:44 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    In the Mood for Love (2000)

    Maggie Cheung and Tony Chiu-wai Leung in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

    Adultery repression; or lust, caution: Wong's "achingly sensual exploration of thwarted desire"*

    After all the outrageous fun Wong Kar-wai had in his earlier movies he accepts punishment in In the Mood for Love, a straight jacket of impeccable cinema about an uptight couple, thrown together (in adjoining apartments!) by their spouses' adultery (apparently, with each other, though this is only evidential surmise, due to coincidental purchases in Japan). For me, there is the additional punishment that this exquisite, grown up film, which is so tedious and repetitious to watch, is heralded as Wong's greatest masterpiece. More than that perhaps it's simply what came along after the wider international public had finally noticed Wong. It's another period film of the early sixties like Days of Being Wild, but much less "wild," the Chinese title alluding to Wong's nostalgia for the "golden years" or good old days when his family first came to Hong Kong from China. This time it's about married couples, a man and woman from two different couples, and oh so repressed and romantic. It appealed to the kind of middle-aged arthouse audience that rushed to see it. It's impeccable rather than brilliant; correct, without boldness or flair, like its protagonists. Admittedly, watching this movie with an adoring lock-step arthouse audience was no fun compared to seeing my first two Wong films in a Chinatown cinema without a middle class white person in sight. It wasn't as cool.

    This was another instance, like the making of his costume-martial arts extravaganza Ashes of Time, when a Wong Kar-wai production dragged out. It took 15 months to make and ran over budget, and this is why the cinematography of Christopher Boyle had to be supplemented by the work of Mark Lee Ping-bin and the Vietnamese cameraman Trần Anh Hùng. It's possible to see a pattern here of free, improvisational work like Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, and more highly wrought efforts like this and Ashes of Time,, the latter time-consuming originally, and then elaborately done over in a Redux version.

    Okay, In the Mood for Love is a masterpiece. All his films are up to here. This is also Wong's best role for Maggie Cheung, who as the professional secretary, Su Li-zhen - Mrs. Chan, displays a succession of exquisite expressions of subtly repressed emotional pain - and a long succession of no less than 20 different beautiful cheongsams (or quipaos) high-necked Chinese-style dresses in which she looks stunning, every inch the movie star. Even the movie admits her outfits are a bit much. "She dresses up like that to go out for noodles?" asks the chatty, mahjong-playing landlady, Mrs. Suen.

    As Su's fellow-sufferer, the newspaper writer Chow Mo-wan, Tony Leung Chiu-fai also gets to put on a refined display of noble suffering and restraint. Pertly it's a repressed almost-affair and partly a two-person adultery victims support group. And as Mike D'Angelo points out, describing several sequences in this film that show off Wong's artistry, Wong and his two stars can make anything, even fetching noodles or walking back and forth, good to watch. But I'm not going to pretend to enjoy it.

    We get a sort of progression of couples relationships in Wong's films. He starts out with the slight, cut-short romance between the small-time triad thug and the simple country girl in As Tears Go By. Then he rolls out the flamboyant doomed playboy-seducer in Days of Being Wild (which, for my money, is the real masterpiece). Chungking Express gives us a couple of jilted young men seeking new relationships. Who knows what's going on in Ashes of Time, but various strange couples pass by, while there is one central pair who remain in love and should have gotten together but never do (and the women is Maggie Cheung). Then, there is [I]Happy Together,[/I a foray into the world of a gay couple who have been linked for a while, but are having trouble. Finally, with In the Mood for Love, we arrive at a regular, heterosexual couple - a man and a woman who are being two-timed by their respective spouses.

    You're attracted, you flirt, you have sex, you break up, you look for new partners. Finally, you get married. And this is what happens. Adultery is the ultimate couples relationship.

    But this new cheated-on pair who drift together make a very uptight pair. We get little for some time for back-and-forth walks to and from work or to bring takeout food. When Su and Chow finally eat out at a restaurant, tht's painfully restricted too. The little booth, the anemic-looking, semi-transparent light green glass plates, the unappetizing looking dark blobs of western food they pick at with forks: it's all an icky affair. But this film is respectful toward its repressive world. The people are always polite. The bossy, nosy Mrs. Suen (played by Yuddy's foster mother from Days of Being Wild, Rebecca Pan) tells Su she is "too polite." Later she tells her she's having too much fun, causing her to curtail her enjoyable evening meetings with Chow.

    The repression causes this couple of fellow-sufferers to have the very complicated experience depicted in In the Mood for Love. Wong Kar-wai has made a film about hiding and deception. Even though Chow and Su risk scandal by starting to meet secretly, they never even kiss. They get all the danger without the fun. Instead, they talk about wuxia comics for his work - she helps him with ideas, but we don't get any details. And we see Mrs. Chen walking back and forth so often with a food thermos this starts to seem like "The Lunchbox - Hong Kong version."

    Things get more emotional, partly through several enactments Su and Chow carry out in which she practices how she will confront her husband with his adultery, in which she realizes she's much more deeply affected by this than she realized. There is also the tragic back-and-forth when Chow goes to work for a paper in Shanghai and they nearly go together, ending later in another sad, maddening almost. The movie's two musical refrains (something always memorable in Wong), the sweeping strings of the theme from Seijun Suzuki's Yumeji** so full of energy and hope and the teasing strains of Nat King Cole's version of Osvaldo Farrés' "Quizás, quizás, quizás," perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, perfectly embody the hope and frustration of the story (Mike D'Angelo talks knowlegeably about this and much more in his AV Club "Scenic Routes" analysis of this film). Equally perfect is journalist Chow's eccentric ritual, already spoken of, whispering his secret longing in a hole at Angkor Wat, sealing it with mud, one of Wong's totally sui generis fantasies.

    What maybe doesn't work so well, is a clash between Wong's typically improvisational working method and his narrative here, which involves two elegantly restrained people making tiny adjustments to easy out hints of desires they can never gratify. It's questionable whether the working method is right to convey the nuances of such an incremental piece. The film winds up feeling overbearingly aesthetic and visual, without the counterweight of youthful verve and physicality that anchored Wong's earlier films. But this is no doubt a labor of love, and its refinements satisfy many enthusiastic cinephiles.

    In the Mood for Love 花樣年華 (Fa yeung nin wah, "The Flowering Years"), 98 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 2000, featured at numerous international festivals including Edinburgh, Toronto, San Sebastián, Reykjavik, Pusan, Tokyo, opening in the US Feb. 2001. Metascore 85.
    *Phrase used by Mike D'Angelo in his AV Club piece.
    **Composed and performed by Umebayashi Shigeru.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2020 at 02:56 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Eros: The Hand (2004)


    Eroticism of tailoring

    An extended form, seen for the first time, of a short piece by Wong Kar-wai from 2004 (same year as 2046) for a three-part anthology including Soderbergh and Antonioni, this is like a short story. It depicts the erotic/professional relationship of a young tailor, Zhang (Chang Chen), and his most memorable client, a beautiful, glamorous, mysterious, tragic courtesan, Miss Hua (Gong Li). While this may seem a relatively slight effort, "The Hand" is still fabulous filmmaking and another example, like In the Mood for Love, of Wong's transition from his buoyant, frenetic style into something more static, grand, sad, and drenched in period.

    This has all the glamor and restraint and exquisite Christopher Doyle cinematography of In the Mood for Love, and William Chang Suk-ping's tacky-chic set design and his editing. But it's all in a new key/ The longing and frustration of the earlier film has been transferred from two bourgeois married people to the world of a tailor shop and a prostitute. One could almost say these themes work better here.

    It's not a surprise that after Miss Hua gives young Zhang a hand job when he first comes as an apprentice to become her new tailor, that things don't progress erotically as we might have expected them to do between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love). Instead, since Zhang is so virginal when he enters the room with her, arriving when she has been plainly servicing a male client, he gets an erection, she becomes his muse and obsession as a tailor.

    In some scenes Zhang makes love to Miss Hua's dresses, caressing them with his steam iron, finally invading one of them with his exploring hand. After all, a tailored dress is the most intimate way of possessing a woman's body, and so the dressmaker is the beautiful woman's proxy lover, by his very nature. This film in part explores that possibility.

    Years later when Zhang comes to see Miss Hua, now in sad decline and very ill, he says she is the reason why he became a tailor. She indeed told him at the outset his orgasm will inspire him whenever he works on her dresses. But because this is a Wong film there is more, because years later he has still not married ("no one wants me") and still longs for her.

    But there's more than that. It's clear Zhang's boss, Master Jin (veteran actor Tien Feng) has held Miss Hua in high esteem. She was glamorous and highly paid. Or is it more likely he simply adored her beauty and her exquisite body and loved making dresses for her? So Zhang comes to her second hand, already just a bit past her prime, let us say (Gong LI was 41). But some women have just got it: the elegance, the attractiveness linger on, they are desirable at any age. This seems to be an assumption behind the story and behind the seeming assumption of both Master Jin and Zhang that whatever the status of this woman, there is an aura of the eternal feminine about her. (It's a demanding requirement for Gong Li. But she has it and even last year in Lou Ye's Saturday Fiction she was still, at 54, glamorous and beautiful. The casting was right also for Zhang in Chang Chen, who's made to appear stiffer and plainer, naturally, than he really is as the repressed, desire-ridden young tailor, with the way his hair is combed and the mustache he has. In real life this Taiwanese actor, who will play Timothee Chalamet's mentor in the new Dune and has been important ever since the age of 14 when he played the lead in Edward Yang's 1991 coming of age classic A Brighter Summer Day - Wong's casts have always been who's whos of Chinese film stardom.

    Zhang has a reprise of his first meeting when Miss Hua is ill, and weeping, perhaps moved by the fact that he so clearly still admires and desires her and she doesn't feel worth it anymore. The final scene between them is both sexy and heartbreaking, and played by both actors to the hilt. There's almost nothing like it. It's not fun, it's almost not even erotic, but it's very moving. Moving also is how Zhang covers for her in the final scene when he goes back and talks to Master jin about Miss Hua, who he says has left again. In this extended form, this is another Wong film that one can go back and watch over and over, finding new nuances and new beauties, new ways Wong has concealed layers of emotion.

    This was shot during the making of 2046. While it was shooting, the company learned of the suicide of Leslie Cheung, a great chock and tragedy for Wong, for whom he had been both a key star and a real friend, and then there was the SARS epidemic and everything in Hong Kong went strangely, terrifyingly dead. It was a fraught time. But from that punishment this pearl emerged.

    The Hand The Hand” / 愛神·手 2 ("Eros - Hand 2)), 56 mins., debuted (in its shortened form, first of the three) at Venice Sept. 10, 2004, also showing at Toronto, and later in a few other festivals. Warner Independent Pictures released the film in North American theaters Apr. 8, 2005, but in few cinemas with poor publicity, so it did not do well. All critics say only the Wong segment is worthwhile. Metascore for the anthology: 54%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-17-2020 at 04:55 PM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Film at Lincoln Center Daily. . . . .from HERE
    A Note from Wong Kar Wai on His New Restorations
    By Wong Kar Wai on December 2, 2020 in Retrospective

    Chungking Express

    On the Restorations

    During the process of restoring the pictures that you are about to watch, we were caught in a dilemma between restoring these films to the form in which the audience had remembered them and how I had originally envisioned them. There was so much that we could change, and I decided to take the second path as it would represent my most vivid vision of these films. For that reason, the following changes were made.

    Aspect Ratios

    Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love were shot and released theatrically on 1.66:1, one of my favorite aspect ratios, but they were converted to 1.85:1 on videogram. Since most people experienced these films on videogram, it perpetuated the belief that they were shot on 1:85:1. With these restorations, you will be watching them in their original aspect ratios. With Fallen Angels, I have changed the format to cinemascope, because it was originally what I had intended to release the film in. When we were cutting the film, we accidentally turned the Steenbeck on anamorphic instead of standard. I felt that the film looked much more interesting because it enhanced the distance of the characters on top of the extreme wide angle that we shot on. Back then, it was impossible to shoot a film in standard and release it in anamorphic. With this restoration, we have successfully fulfilled this wish.

    Still from In the Mood for Love

    Sound Mixing

    Chungking Express
    was made before 5.1 surround sound, so we had to retool the settings and sound configurations this time.

    Likewise, we also remixed In the Mood for Love, and Robert Mackenzie did a great job as we collaborated remotely during the pandemic.


    We created new credits for a consistent look throughout the films. They are also a reminder to our audience that these are the restored versions.

    Happy Together

    During a fire accident in 2019, we lost some of the original negative of Happy Together. In the ensuing months, we tried to restore the negative as much as we could, but a portion of it had been permanently damaged. We lost not only some of the picture, but also the sound in those reels.

    As a result, I had to shorten some of Tony’s monologues, but with the amazing work of L’Immagine Ritrovata, we managed to restore most of the scenes to better quality.

    Happy Together
    Final word

    After the premiere of Ashes of Time Redux in 2008, some audience members observed that the film looked different from what they had remembered. I realized that some of our audience discovered the film on pirated copies and suboptimal exhibition venues that presented the film in a different light. Still, some preferred the versions that they had watched, because memories are hard to beat.

    As the saying goes: “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

    Since the beginning of this process, these words have reminded me to treat this as an opportunity to present these restorations as a new work from a different vantage point in my career.

    Having arrived at the end of this process, these words still hold true.

    I invite the audience to join me on starting afresh, as these are not the same films, and we are no longer the same audience.

    World of Wong Kar Wai continues through January 1.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-11-2020 at 01:04 PM.


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