Wong Kar Wai: A Five Film Retrospective

Wong Kar Wai’s art and style of storytelling and directing is built through his personal influences and Hong Kong’s political and social relationships. Notorious for his unique approach and technique, Wong Kar Wai combines stories of the city, mostly tackling Hong Kong’s current social and political issues, with radical experimentation and audacious methods of directing. He started as an apprentice in one of Alan Tang Kwong-Wing’s production houses. Tang is the renowned owner of The Wing Scope Co. and In-gear Film Production Company and became Wang’s first producer for his first film As Tears Go by.However, before Wang considered himself as a full-time film director, he started first writing his stories for television.  After he finished taking a course on graphic designing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic School, he furthered his studies by taking up at the Hong Kong Television Broadcasts Limited a course on a production training course offered by the said television station. From here, Wong Kar Wai sharpened his skills in screenplay. After almost five years, he was given his first break in film when Hong Kong actor- producer Alan Tang funded his first film. His stories run to almost all genres, ranging from action, comedy, drama to crime and romance. However, his most famous and award- winning films such as Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love all narrate stories of affection and romantic love. On these movies, Wong Kar Wai tackles about the uncertainty of romance amidst the noise and the fast-paced life of the city. With this, Wong Kar Wai’s films are usually easily detected because of his consistent use of the ideas of time and love among his films. However, he regards Final Victory as his finest screenplay. A comedy- crime story, Final Victory is a film which he has written for the movie director Patrick Tam.As a director, on the other hand, Wong Kar Wai is detectable through his bold experimentations and views about film directing. He often employs alienation and dislocation in his filmmaking, two aspects that Tam has a major influence on him. Together with these, Wang also applies striking and salient visual aesthetic wherein colors are creatively used to stir atmosphere, mood, and emotions. Moreover, Wang prefers to focus on the details of his films rather than on its totality.Due to his militant and revolutionary approach in film directing, Wong Kar Wai is often regarded as a postmodern artist, a postmodern auteur. From his artistic innovativeness and creativity, Wang rises as one of Hong Kong’s finest and well- acclaimed scriptwriters and directors—a status that one cannot achieve without his influences that shape him.Wong Kar Wai and the Italian Neo- RealismWong Kar Wai’s films are easily characterized because of his stories’ themes and settings. While giving subject matters that discuss about Hong Kong’s socio-political issues, Wong Kar Wai also utilizes settings that define more his subject matters. For example, in Chungking Express the location of the story is the Hong Kong City which Wang used in defining and explaining deeper the social issue he wanted to project in the film—how love exists in a postmodern age. The use of Hong Kong means that Wang is conscious about the effect of location to the meanings he desires to convey in his movie. It is an implicit way of telling to his audience that love in a postmodernism, just like the city of Hong Kong, is a fast-paced, changing, hybrid and capitalized thing. In Italian Neo-realism, location shooting and dubbing of the dialogues are two aspects which are given more focus on. Locations, as well as characters, should all look realistic that is why directors influenced by this technique follows the idea that actors, even those principal ones, should be non- actors. This is to make the acting and the finished film product look more realistic.Wong Kar Wai and the French New WaveWong Kai is part of the second- wave Hong Kong directors who are greatly influenced by the French New Wave, together with Eddie Fong, Stanley Kwan and Clara Law. All of them are followers of first- wave directors like Tsui Hark, Ann Hui and Patrick Tam, the one that Wong has worked with. The movement let Wang and directors alike to use their artistic impetus in analyzing and perhaps in critiquing Hong Kong in terms of its social and political issues, as well as its past and current relationship to China and Britain—the two countries that colonized the country. To illustrate further, Wong in most of his films, uses the idea of hybridity of the two cultures, in portraying his stories. In Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, a lot of evidences are presented in order to see the mixing of Eastern and Western identity and cultures. Wong’s use of film speed is also considered an aspect of the French New Wave wherein shots are rapid and taken in open fields such as at streets instead of closed ones like studios.Brief Synopsis of Wong Kar Wai’s Five FilmsI.                    Chungking ExpressThe story is divided into two parts: the story of Cop 223 and Cop 633. It was told sequentially while most of its locations never changed, just like the Midnight Express food stall where both cops goes to. Both stories talk about each character’s way of moving on and healing while alienating themselves amidst the things happening around them.II.                 Fallen AngelsThe story follows the life of Leon, an assassin who struggles between his profession and the affection his partner Michelle shows to him. Some people say that the film is a continuation or a sequel of the 1994 Wang’s movie Chungking Express. The story tackles almost the same themes presented in Chungking Express such as one’s alienation and disconnection to self and love in a postmodern age and society.III.               Happy TogetherReleased in 1997, the story is about a gay couple who is in the verge of reconciliation while having a vacation in Argentina. The two came from constant cycle of physical abuse and reconciliation. However, at the end of the story, they finally departed as the story closes with one of them, Lai Yiu-fai, visiting alone the Iguaza Falls—the place where he and his ex- partner had planned to visit.IV.              In the Mood for LoveThe story was set in 1960s Hong Kong narrating the lives of two married people. Chow Mo-Wan, a journalist, met in an apartment the secretary So Lai-zhen. With both of their spouses having an affair, the two easily got hooked with each other. Realizing that what they are doing is wrong, they decided to end the relationship and part their ways. They never meet again although both of them tried to communicate with the other one. The film closes with Chow whispering in a hole his secrets and putting a mud on it eventually.V.                2046This is the third part that completes the trilogy of Wong, starting from the Days of Being Wild up to In the Mood for Love. Although a sequel of the first two films, 2046 is a science- fiction film took place in a train coming from or to year 2046.Analysis and Connections of the Five FilmsCharacters in Wong Kar Wai’s films are presented each with individual identities and isolations. Yet he managed to get connection           each one a connection to the other one. In most stories, Wong never gives the focus to one main character only. For example, in Chungking Express the narrator is not only one but two. Wong, as said earlier, focused on the details of his films rather than on its totality. In addition, being a follower of the Italian Neo realism, Wong uses non- actors as his actors.The plots of the films, on the other hand, embody all of Wong’s perceptions about Hong Kong’s socio-political status. Some argues that his plots are disoriented and without focus, but in my opinion, Wong is a postmodern innovative and creative storyteller without boundaries for artistic impetus.Meanwhile, Wong Kar Wai as a storyteller seems to love infusing the idea of time in his stories. Take for example his films Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and 2046. All of the films are products of Wong’s creation and portrayal of time as something homogenous and short- lived. The characters in his stories are sometimes trapped in dreams which they cannot escape by relying to time. For example, in Chungking Express, Faye constantly sings the song California Dreamin’ which I think is Wong’s own way of expressing how dreams can trap time, especially in a city like Hong Kong where everything seems to run in a hurry, even time itself.Wong’s use of language is another factor that one could consider analyzing him as a storyteller. In most of his stories, Wong used conversational dialogues that prevent them from being misunderstood. Wong is also famous for his successful use of monologues at the start and at the end of the film.In terms of his directing talent and skills, however, I personally think that Wong has no definite structure or direction. It seems to me that his directing is too open and without focus. Although it can be argued that Wong’s style in directing is a product brought about by his personal preferences and influences, I still think that he gives his audience a hard time in understanding the messages he wants to convey in his films.His use of camera and lighting are also revolutionary. The most salient characteristic of Wong’s use of these elements is the speed of his film shots. Most of the time, Wong utilizes shots that are rapid and highly stylized, giving a more defined tone, atmosphere, and emotions to his films.Asian movies of contemporary directors like Raise the Red Lantern, Police Story, and The Killer, just like Wong Kar Wai’s films, also talks about past and current socio-political issues. Raise the Red Lantern, for example, is said to be a critique of the Chinese communist authoritarianism set during 1920s. This movie is also acclaimed for tits successful use of vivid colors that Wong also infuses in his films. The Police Story, on the other hand, shows a current social and political scenario in Hong Kong as it tackles about the city’s uprising crime incidences. Finally, The Killer, as compared to Wong’s films, evokes intense emotions as it tries to capture the idea of love, friendship, and violence. The story’s main protagonist is a hitman which Wong also has in one of his films.Wong, with his daring and modern methods in storytelling and directing, proves to be an auteur worth of what he is receiving today. A postmodern in innovativeness and creativity, Wong Kar Wai is an efficient storyteller and but not yet an effective director. However, although his directing skills are found to be lacking in direction and control, surely his personal and socio- political views are still his best weapons why his films are considered as wonderful creations.