[FILM] Wong Kar-wai - His Movies, His Soundtracks and More
- Wong Kar-wai: His movies, his soundtracks and more
Highly academic, and extremely well researched, James Tambling's
book takes a detailed look at Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together. As one
of the series on New Hong Kong Cinema published by the Hong Kong
University Press, Tambling's analysis is sure to be a required text
for film and gender studies students in the SAR and beyond.
The series attempts to explore "how films both reflect and inflect
culture" (preface), and how Wong's acclaimed films impact Chinese
Tambling begins with an analysis of Happy Together as allegory,
using the relationship between the men as a reference to the
relationship between the Chinese mainland and the SAR. Using
reference to literary critic Frederic Jameson, he finds that "the
story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the
embattled situation of the public Third World culture and society".
Other theorists, including Spivak and Ahmad, are invoked to shore up
Tambling's thesis, although there is an assumption that the reader
is already familiar with the basics of the field of literary study.
He asserts that there is a relationship between sexuality and the
public, political world.
With the theory out of the way, more common questions are also
addressed, including questioning its setting in Buenos Aires rather
than Hong Kong. Tambling posits that the film could be regarded
as "a tale of two cities, putting them together and almost asking
them if they could be happy together". This chapter also brings
together Taiwan's settlement by the Portuguese (the film ends in
Taiwan) with Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, both of
which end in areas suffering from neo-colonialism.
Contexts and themes including the film imagery (the meanings behind
the tango dance, yellow wallpaper, and more), homosexuality, and
whether the film is "affirmative about homosexuality by actually
representing it, not bothering to discuss it... (and) treating it as
no different from any other sexual partnership". There is also an
analysis of nostalgia and melancholy in the film, followed by an
epilogue that addresses Happy Together in the context of the making
of Wong's In the Mood for Love.
Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together will certainly be reserved for
academic shelves, but it should also be on the must-read list of
anyone who has watched the film and felt there was more to it than
simple viewing pleasure. Laura Hutchison
Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together, by Jeremy Tambling, pub Hong Kong
University Press, 2003, 122pp, Paperback
Ashes of Time has risen to cult status, meriting it the pleasure of
being one of the films addressed in the Hong Kong University Press'
New Hong Kong Cinema series
Ashes of Time
Initially not a success, Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time has risen over
the past nine years to almost cult status. In this analysis by Wimal
Dissanayake, the emphasis lies on the premise that Ashes marks "an
important point in the growth of Hong Kong cinema" within the
context of the creativity of Wong Kar-wai in filmmaking.
Bearing this in mind, the chapter dedicated to the acclaimed
director (Chapter 2) is useful and comprehensive, with details of
his film history as well as inclusion of box offices collections of
Hong Kong films.
In comparison with Tambling's analysis of Happy Together,
Dissanayake's is far less verbose, covering basics like storyline
and character analyses. Don't be fooled, though: this is as much an
academic tome as the former, and chapters on characters nonetheless
tackle the issue of identity and how identities weave around each
other and "seem to deconstruct identity only to bring out its
Dissanayake goes on to discuss narrative structure, style, and
martial arts (focusing on the poetics of the marital arts film genre
and whether or not it can fall into the category of wuxia).
The theory hits on discussion of time, fragmentation, and
melancholia in the film, and the complexities and convolutions of
philosophical ramifications of its use. And although very
interesting, the reader is a bit thrown aback, with Dissanayake's
statement from the onset being that the film should be analyzed in
the context of Hong Kong cinema, as opposed to being analyzed as
allegory or as text for higher academic study.
The reader is brought back into the original hypothesis in Chapter
11, discussing responses to the film, complete with a timeline and
with published examples of criticisms, comments, and analysis on
Ashes. The conclusion reiterates the original motive of analyzing
the film's significance to the evolution of Hong Kong cinema, but
also makes clear the "intention to focus on two important dimensions
of the film: its intertextuality and its social relevance". A little
late in the day, Ashes is also related to the mood of the 1990s in
Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the reader is left having to turn back to
sections of the book to reconfirm this point instead of having had
it introduced early on. Laura Hutchison
Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time, by Wimal Dissanayake with Dorothy
Wong, pub Hong Kong University Press, 2003, 175pp, Paperback
Available online from the usual outlets
In the Mood for Love: The Soundtrack
One of Wong Kar-wai's most popular films is also one of the most
treasured soundtracks among many a CD collection. A melancholy
fusion of different genres - jazz, classical, and opera - all are
personal favorites of the director and his mother.
The first track on the disc Yumeji's Theme is a typical Shanghai 30s
ballad featuring strings and a solo violin. This tune is synonymous
with the film and recurs on countless occasions as the theme for the
lovely qipao clad, Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung).
All the Chinese opera (Beijing opera, Zhejiang opera, Jiang Su
opera) are tracks recorded from the original vinyl records. The
Beijing opera Si Lang Tan Mu and Sang Yuan Ji Zi are the
representative works by famous Chinese opera artist Tan Xinpei (1874-
1917) that prevailed in the 1930s. The Zhejiang opera Hong Niang Hui
Zhang Sheng and Qing Tan's love story is closely mimicked by Zhou
Muyun (Tony Leung) and Su Lizhen in In the Mood.
Wong Kar-wai selects three songs by singer Nat King Cole, whose
works also can be heard in the higher echelons of old Shanghai
nightlife haunts. Those three songs are Aquellos Ojos Verdes, Te
Quiero Dijiste and Quizas Quizas Quizas, full of Nat King Cole's
typical jazz and Latin style, invoking visions of colorful
ballrooms, and dazzling Shanghai nights.
No soundtrack of a film set in Shanghai 1930s would be complete
without the inclusion of Zhou Xuan's "Golden Voice". Her famous
rendition of Hua Yang Nian Hua is in fact what the film was named
after. The soundtrack features her original recording of the song,
eerie and vacant.
The other eight tracks are commissioned works by Michael Galasso
most of which feature strings - mainly cellos and violins.
This CD is a must-have for any China resident, and, as Christmas
approaches, a great one for giving.
As Tears Go By (Wang Jiao Ka Men)
Taking HK's overheating gangster flick scene circa 1987 and turning
it into a certified tearjerker was quite a feat. Wong Kar-wai's
ability in achieving just that worked wonders towards cementing long
lasting foundations for his tumultuous career.
Released in early 1988, the spectacularly enthralling love drama
established not only director Wong's reputation, but also his cast
of unique regulars, all later superstars in their own right. Andy
Lau did Wah, a wise guy desperately in love with cousin Carmen, a
cute, longhaired Maggie Cheung fresh from her Police Academy
successes and young enough to maintain some serious naiveté.
Carmen's a regular village girl, her normative lifestyle and demure
nature compelling Wah into reconsidering his own questionable path.
Adorned with cool Jacky Cheung as Andy's self-destructive side kick
Fly, As Tears Go By managed to integrate classy intelligentia with
hearty emotion, remaining a must see to this day.
Starring: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Ronald Wong
1988, Cantonese, 94 minutes
Days of Being Wild (A Fei Zheng Zhuan)
Due more to bad translation work than actual script writing issues,
many of those anticipating Wong Kar-wai's sophomore outing were
disappointed upon learning it outright lacked anything remotely wild
start to finish. Basically, it came to be a revisiting of three
staples: the seedy nightlife, quality thespians and versatile
storytelling. For this project, Wong's cast expanded to include
Leslie Cheung and Carina Lau, giving rising star Leslie a shot at
the lead as 1960's playboy Yuddy, involved with two opposing women
and repulsed to some extent by both. Good girl Su Lizhen (a once
again sweetened Maggie) faces nocturnal prowler Feng Ying (Carina
Lau) in a joust to decide which will make off with Yuddy's promise
of loving stability.
Little do they suspect he himself feels lost, oblivious of his
father's identity and keen on obtaining true male bonding, something
reckless buddy Zeb (Jacky Cheung) simply can't provide. Even an
introspective cop-turned-traveler (Andy Lau) can't stop Yuddy from
colliding with destiny to tragic results. There was also a brief
cameo by then-prospective regular Tony Leung.
While less thoughtful than As Tears Go By and somewhat of a plod
fest at times, this film nonetheless went towards consolidating the
esteemed moviemaker's mesmerizing style.
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Jacky
Cheung, Tony Leung
1990, Cantonese, 94 minutes
Chungking Express (Chongqing Sen Lin)
Arguably one of the greatest films to emerge during the early 90s,
it too fell prey to weird transliteration choices, oddly forgoing
its true title, Chongqing Forest, in favor of obvious fluffing up.
Whatever your thoughts on that, you won't quickly gloss over Wong
Kar-wai's vivacious amalgamation of quirky characters, frenzied
camera work and hypnotic pacing.
Certainly, it was more style than content but at least unashamedly
so, unlike other products of the same era with their presently
extinct cooler-than-y'all attitude.
Two cops, numbers 223 and 663 (Takeshi Kanehiro and Tony Leung
respectively) obsess over lost love interests among a perpetually
dark, Tower of Babel-like version of HK veering pleasantly close to
bonafide science fiction. The first soon falls for a wig-wearing
smuggler and master crook (screen empress Brigitte Lin), the latter
acquiring bliss with timid restaurant employee Faye (Wong Faye).
Pioneering techniques later used around the world, Chungking Express
challenges viewers' attention spans and willingness to stay focused
with its loosely tied plot and ecstatic cinematography. With several
new stars added to his roster and such an acclaimed piece of work
under his belt, Wong Kar-wai's credibility was affirmed for years to
Starring Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Wong Fei
1994, Cantonese/Various, 97 minutes
Fallen Angels (Duo La Tian Shi)
Plenty reasons exist to claim Chungking Express pseudo-sequel status
for this one, but despite more of the same nightly cavorting, wacky
personas and blurred action segments it doesn't quite capture the
impetus so exquisitely evident in its predecessor.
Continuing Wong Kar-wai's effort to diversify his talent stock, the
film pits Leon Lai (as hit man Johnny) against a mysterious
underworld filled to bursting with treacherous clients and ambushes
just waiting to happen. Two additional protagonists parlay about,
one being Johnny's caretaker and secret admirer (super-sexy Michele
Reis looking veritably astonishing in those tiny minis).
Although her devotion to the assassin knows no boundaries, she can't
bring herself to even confess these feelings, doomed to remain
heartbroken. Comic relief, if you can call it that, comes via
Takeshi Kaneshiro's rendition of eccentric deaf-mute He Zhiwu,
another lost soul wondering HK's lonely streets while tormenting
residents with harmless pranks as the ultimate time killer. Karen
Mok fans will relish her as a multifaceted bimbo acting out several
characters to acceptable effect.
Potent and capable, Fallen Angels' moderately gripping story and
smoky atmosphere serve as valid strong points even if it didn't rise
to previous WONG KAR-WAI standards. At any rate, it was a good
stopgap on the way to the director's scandalous Happy Together and
international smash hit In the Mood For Love.
Starring Leon Lai, Michele Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Karen Mok
1995, Cantonese/Various, 90 minutes
Coming Attraction: 2046
Lots of controversy around this overdue milestone, promising to be
Wong Kar-wai's first full-blooded science fiction masterpiece and
possibly Asia's greatest contribution to the genre, with roots in
landmarks such as Blade Runner, Barton Fink and I, Robot.
Why controversy? Well, one version has it the movie will revolve
around a writer (Tony Leung) meeting a washed up hooker (Maggie
Cheung, staying at room 2046) and proceeding to concoct endless
tales of artificial intelligence and love.
Others claim the plot resides in a despotic HK around the year 2046,
where citizens all have numbers instead of names, possibly since
they've been replaced by droids.
Regardless, a lot rides on 2046 and Wong Kar-wai's success in
getting it done before January 1, 2046 actually passes by.
Additional confirmed cast members include Wang Fei, Carina Lau,
Beijing's Zhang Ziyi, her former Crouching Tiger screen mate Chang
Chen and Kimura Takuya.
Keep all applicable digits crossed.