Showing posts with label Wong Kar-Wai. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wong Kar-Wai. Show all posts

June 13, 2012

My Blueberry Nights Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

Elizabeth (Norah Jones) in Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights

I'm closing out this marathon by checking out his lone English-language outing. Released in 2007, My Blueberry Nights received mixed reviews despite its adherence to Wong Kar-Wai's usual style. This is Norah Jones' acting debut, so she received extra attention on whether her performance worked. She's also the lead and appears in a majority of the story, so there's no way around concentrating on her. Kar-Wai assembles a talented cast around Jones and maintains the feeling of his prior work. The pressing question is whether that success will carry over into this anticipated film.

Elizabeth (Norah Jones) arrives at the diner owned by Jeremy (Jude Law) in search of her cheating boyfriend. While she struggles to get over that relationship, they strike up a friendship while eating pie after he closes up shop. A romance seems possible, but she decides to leave New York and embark on a journey around the country to find herself. Elizabeth begins in Memphis and meets some interesting characters, including an estranged husband and wife (David Straitharn and Rachel Weisz). Her journey continues in Nevada with Leslie (Natalie Portman), a struggling gambler. During this trip, she stays in touch with Jeremy and tries to regain her confidence before returning home.

My Blueberry Nights is one of Kar-Wai's most low-key films and hearkens back to the chance meetings of  his characters in Chungking Express. Elizabeth has just exited a doomed relationship and is in a dour state, but we never feel like she won't recover. The characters she meets along the way are in worse shape, especially Straitharn's Arnie. Struggling to get over his separation from his much younger wife, he drinks away his sorrows every night and tries to forget. Unfortunately, this solution only goes so far. Arnie and Sue Lynne offer a clear warning about the pratfalls of romance.

Jeremy's also facing his own past demons over his lost love Katya (Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power). Elizabeth and Jeremy only spend a limited time together yet just seem to connect, which is a rare quality in this world. They risk becoming a defiant loner like Leslie, who refuses to believe her father's dying because of past disappointments. Her trust in anyone, even her own family, has been destroyed and left a fragile shell beneath the upbeat exterior.

Jude Law and Norah Jones fall in love in My Blueberry Nights.

Kar-Wai isn't the type of filmmaker who develops intricate scripts, so the weight falls on the actors to build their characters. Norah Jones seems to be reaching to bring depth to Elizabeth, but it isn't a bad performance. Straitharn, Weisz, and Portman take over the screen when they appear, and she's mostly reacting to their stories. Jones holds her own and acts similar to the audience in observing the material. They aren't fascinating characters, but the actors get the most out of each situation. Law has rarely been this charming on screen, and we're rooting for him to re-connect with Elizabeth. Kar-Wai also creates a colorful environment for them to interact. The actual plot is pretty generic and isn't surprising, but he doesn't seem that concerned with delivering an original set-up. This choice works because we're invested in the performances within the relaxed setting.

The opening scenes with Elizabeth and Jeremy striking up a friendship are excellent and build their relationship without using the regular conventions. She stops by at closing time and he serves her blueberry pie (hence the title), and these underplayed moments have just the right tone. Kar-Wai wisely cuts back to Jeremy during the story because he's the most interesting character. I also enjoyed the card game scenes where Leslie talks like she's owning the table. It's clear this is more bluster than skill, but Portman sells this showmanship. Leslie is just as lost as the others, but she masks it better at the start.

Jeremy (Jude Law) struggles with a past love in My Blueberry Nights.

My Blueberry Nights is tricky to evaluate because it stands apart from the rest of Kar-Wai's career but has plenty of similarities. It's his ninth feature film but hasn't received the same critical attention as his other movies. That doesn't mean it's a slight picture, however. I believe it's an engaging story that can stand alongside Kar-Wai's other films. His use of slow-motion, vibrant color, and gorgeous angles connects well with his previous work. The music is also excellent and differs within each segment. Mournful tunes from Cat Power play throughout the early scenes, while Otis Redding takes over in Memphis. A standout is a stunning use of "Try a Little Tenderness" during Arnie and Sue Lynne's fights. Kar-Wai excels in using pop music to enhance his films, and this one continues that trend.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Days of Being Wild
Fallen Angels
Happy Together
In the Mood for Love
2046

June 6, 2012

2046 Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

An android in the future in Wong Kar Wai's 2046

Following the success of In the Mood for Love, expectations were high for its follow-up 2046. Characters from Wong Kar-Wai's previous movies, particularly Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) from that film, would be returning. For a director who loves crafting mysterious stories that twist in upon themselves, this might be his most intricate creation. Despite the title, it doesn't actually take place in the year 2046 but includes futuristic elements within a fictional story. The setting is Hong Kong in the late '60s for another jaunt with characters struggling to connect. The result left some viewers disappointed or confused, but it's this same intrigue that makes the film so memorable. Let's check out the questions below to find out if Kar-Wai has created a worthy successor to his true classic.

Still struggling after his failed relationship with Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung), Chow returns to Hong Kong after time in Singapore. He decides to only get involved in short-term, loveless relationships with women. His most frequent companion is Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), a wild young woman who understands their connection. Complications ensue when she wants more than sex and a drinking partner. Chow spends much of his time writing a futuristic story. Although he's covering androids and a futuristic setting, the characters have similar feelings to his life. Chow also meets a woman also known as Su Li-Zhen (Gong Li) back in Singapore, and she helps him get back to Hong Kong. The events appear out of order, with the connective tissue being Chow's inability to rejuvenate his former romantic self.

Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) smokes a cigarette in 2046.

Once again, Kar-Wai is portraying lonely individuals who are trying to connect with others in their own way. While In the Mood for Love showed two people unwilling to go against the restrictions of society, this film has characters with their own personal barriers. Chow and Bai Ling can have passionate sex as much as they want, but their relationship is stuck in neutral. He's been permanently scarred by his past failures and isn't willing to take another chance. She's trapped in a circular pattern of longing for an emotionally unavailable guy that's becoming destructive.

In his fictional story, Chow describes a female android that acts like a human but doesn't respond when the main guy asks her to run away with him. Her limitations match those of Chow, who isn't capable of forming a true bond with another person. The second Su Li-Zhen in Singapore recognizes this barricade and refuses to get involved in an unfortunate relationship.

Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) pines for her love in 2046.

This type of complicated story would be too much without a talented cast to keep us engaged. Tony Leung gives possibly his best performance and does most of the heavy lifting. His character isn't a likable guy and treats women poorly, yet we stick with him because it's Leung. We spend a lot of time in Chow's head, especially while he's writing the stories. He's matched by a stunning performance by Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), who creates a fiery character that dominates the screen.

It's clear from the start that their relationship isn't going to work, but they're still a magnetic couple. Pop star Faye Wong (Chungking Express) also does excellent work as Wang Jingwen, the daughter of the hotel owner. Her moments with Chow remind us of  In the Mood for Love, especially while he's crafting his stories. She loves another guy and they never find romance, but this bond feels more genuine than his other liaisons.

The future is wondrous in Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.

2046 is one of Kar-Wai's most impressive visual films, particularly during the futuristic sequences. Those are gorgeous collages of color that would feel right at home in an art-museum exhibition. It's also one of his most ambitious films and includes plenty of exciting stylistic moments. Even simple events like a group of people eating dinner together are shot with major flourishes. This may take some viewers out of the movie, but it keeps the story interesting even when little is happening.

Like many of Kar-Wai's films, it ends up being a collection of good scenes more than a straightforward narrative. The middle segments with Chow and Bail Ling are filled with the energy of a burgeoning relationship. They hit the town with full force and enjoy every minute, and these scenes kick the momentum into high gear. There's a sadness beneath the surface because their relationship is certainly temporary, but it doesn't kill the energy from these scenes.

Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang are in love in 2046.

Although it's an impressive film, 2046 suffers in comparison to its remarkable predecessor. It isn't fair to judge this movie on that basis, but it's worth nothing because some viewers were disappointed that it didn't reach that pinnacle. Regardless of these issues, it still provides an intriguing group of characters who connect with the themes of Kar-Wai's entire career.

Leung's steady performance keeps everything together into a coherent whole despite the narrative leaps. We do feel the length of the 129-minute feature, which doesn't typically happen. The saving grace is the visual style, which matches his best work and earns this film a strong recommendation. Kar-Wai's ambition is on full display and continues to stretch the visual boundaries of the medium.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Days of Being Wild
Fallen Angels
Happy Together
In the Mood for Love
My Blueberry Nights

May 23, 2012

Happy Together Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

Tony Leung Chi Wai stars as Lai Yiu-Fai in Happy Together.

One of the main reasons I decided to dig further into Wong Kar-Wai's filmography was my enjoyment of the wonderful In the Mood for Love. That 2000 film includes a minimal number of characters and depicts unrequited love in a fascinating way. He delves into their personalities with minimal dialogue and a surprising lack of melodrama. I mention this because this post focuses on a similar film in terms of its focus on a few individuals and a difficult romance.

Released in 1997, Happy Together steps back from the more stylish presentation of Fallen Angels and takes an intimate look at struggling characters. Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chi Wai) and Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) have traveled to Argentina from Hong Kong and seem happy there. The two guys quickly devolve into bickering and break up, but this is just the beginning. Lai takes menial jobs as a doorman or in a kitchen, while Ho goes out at all hours and picks up other men. Their relationship is dysfunctional and seems ready to dissolve permanently at any moment. Working at the kitchen, Lai befriends Chang (Chang Chen), a Taiwanese guy who seems interested in becoming better friends. He might offer respite from the volatile Ho in this foreign environment.

Tony Leung and Chang Chen in Happy Together

Although the focus is the degeneration of a relationship, Happy Together also shows the loneliness felt by characters living far from home. It's never stated explicitly, but we never really see Lai content until he heads back towards his country. Ho is his one connection to Hong Kong, and once that tie is severed, he drops quickly into a sad state. Kar-Wai's characters regularly feel out of place in their surroundings, even when they're living closer to home. They've often lost the ability to truly connect with other people. Lai discovers a friendly soul in Chang, but he's guarded and isn't sure how close to get. He also isn't sure about Chang's sexuality and is trying to avoid an awkward conflict. Lai repeatedly holds back and avoids the major issues, which is why he keeps letting Ho re-appear in his life.

The three main characters all have depth and avoid falling into a specific type. We spend the most amount of time with Lai, which aligns our sympathies with his plight. It also helps that he's played by Leung, who's very likable. Even when he's treating others poorly, we typically side with him. On the other hand, it's really hard to find anything to like with Ho. He drops Lai when he gets bored and then comes back to him when he falls into hard times. He's young and wants to party with other guys but needs the security.

Ho takes advantage of Lai and doesn't seem to realize the harm he causes. It's only when Lai's finally left that his sad state makes sense. Cheung plays this scene really well and knows how to play this type of character. Ho's behavior has a lot of similarities with the self-centered Yuddy in Days of Being Wild.  The energy picks up after Chang arrives on the scene. He brings life that's missing from the central relationship.

This film gets off to a pretty slow start and meanders for a while, and the best scenes generally appear in the second half. The most effective sequence involves Chang's last night in town. He guzzles many beers with Lai at a local club, and they're just hanging out and having fun. A surprising moment comes when Chang hands over his tape recorder and asks his friend to leave him a message. All of Lai's bottled emotions come out as he tries to express his feelings, and he can't do anything but cry. Leung plays this moment perfectly and doesn't overplay the raw emotion. The final act following this scene is excellent and really lifts the movie as a whole. Lai goes to the massive Iguazu Falls, while Chang visits a lighthouse at the lowest point in South America. The momentum builds towards an convincing finale that lacks the claustrophobia of the opening act.

Tony Leung stars in Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together.

Happy Together ranks in the bottom half of the Kar-Wai films that I've watched thus far, but there's still plenty to like. I've yet to mention the consistently stunning work by Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who frequently collaborates with Kar-Wai. The story opens in black-and-white, which enlivens the frustrating early scenes with Lai and Ho. When it transfers to color, it loses none of its effect despite some mediocre sequences. Kar-Wai is focusing on the darker side of ongoing relationships that can't seem to end despite the obvious problems. The characters are believable, but their interactions lack the crackle of his best work. It's definitely a noteworthy film in his career and worth seeing, but it's missing those extra touches that would place it on the upper tier.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Days of Being Wild
Fallen Angels
In the Mood for Love
My Blueberry Nights
2046

May 16, 2012

Fallen Angels Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

Michelle Reis stars in Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels

After getting lost in the desert with the mysterious Ashes of Time, I was ready to return to the modern world for Fallen Angels. Wong Kar-Wai has shown a mastery of this type of movie over the years, so my expectations were pretty high. Released in 1995, this film was planned as a third story for Chungking Express, and it shares thin connections with that story. It received numerous Hong Kong Film Awards and has built a significant following over the years. Amazingly, neither Maggie Cheung nor Tony Leung appears here, which allows different actors to take center stage for the daring filmmaker.

Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai) is a solo hitman who guns down hordes of enemies without uttering a word. His only business partner is his unnamed agent (Michelle Reis), who provides the blueprints for the locations of the killings. They barely see each other, but their bond grows with each hit. When he decides to end the relationship, she struggles to recover from this missing connection. Meanwhile, he begins a tumultuous relationship with the crazy prostitute Blondie (Karen Mok).  In a separate story, He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is mute and earns money by terrorizing local business people. He falls for Charlie (Charlie Yeung), who's obsessed with the girl who took away her ex-boyfriend. The characters' lives intersect briefly on the streets of Hong Kong as the nights roll along.

A beautiful ride through a tunnel in Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels

Once again, Kar-Wai focuses on young loners searching mightily for a connection in a confusing world. They roam around the city and start brief relationships, but they rarely last and end in sorrow. The killer's agent is filled with life when she's supporting his contracts, but the energy seeps out of her once their bond is severed. He's a tough guy who has little qualms with killing many people, but getting too close to another person seems dangerous. Even crazier figures like Charlie and Blondie are lost souls who disguise their anxieties with over-the-top bravado. On the surface, the happiest character is He Zhiwu, but that glee comes from falling in love at the drop of a hat. He also seems to be missing the self-awareness that creates the worries in the others. It seems like just another day in the office for him to rob people with strange threats.

This story is similar to Days of Being Wild because the characters aren't fleshed out like you might expect. Kar-Wai doesn't care to provide detailed back stories explaining their motivations and the relationships. It isn't clear why He Zhiwu acts the way that he does. In one comic situation, he forces a man to eat a crazy amount of ice cream. This isn't your typical way to commit a robbery, but it's surprisingly effective.

The most intriguing figure is the agent, who gets dressed up to clean Wong Chi-Ming's apartment. It's stunning to watch her glide around like she owns every situation during the first act. What makes these moments work is Kar-Wai's energetic direction, which makes his characters seem a lot cooler than they are. Leon Lai is excellent as the killer and sells the laid-back approach to the profession. He's basically the lead of the story, but we learn almost nothing about him. It's a testament to his talents that we care about his survival by the end.

A black-and-white scene in Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels is a stunning film that includes wonderfully inventive visual sequences. One of the best is a black-and-white scene between He Zhiwu and Charlie that plays out like an animated music video. Kar-Wai   takes a lot of chances this time, and the gambles pay off nearly every time. Wong Chi-Ming reveals the ending of his partnership with the agent through a song on the jukebox. The tune is "Forget Him", a cover by of Shirley Kwan of a famous Cantonese song. Kar-Wai's use of music is impeccable in this film, which also includes memorable tunes from Massive Attack and Laurie Anderson. This brings a freshness to the experience that few directors can duplicate. Activities as simple as walking through a nightclub have a greater resonance because the style is so exciting.

Fallen Angels isn't as well-known as Chungking Express, but it's a better film and deserves more attention. Kar-Wai places the characters in extreme close-ups at the front of the frame while actions happen behind them. The camera is directly in the middle of the action, and this brings a great sense of chaos to every scene. The story avoids the typical structure but isn't confusing like Ashes of Time. Instead, the diversions inject a feeling of spontaneity and freedom that isn't easy to accomplish. Characters like the killer's agent and Blondie are an emotional mess, and we don't know what they'll do next. The result is an awesome movie that's gripping from the start. I can't wait to watch it again.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Days of Being Wild
Happy Together
In the Mood for Love
My Blueberry Nights
2046

May 9, 2012

Ashes of Time Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

A beautiful exterior shot from Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time.

Up to this point, the three Wong Kar-Wai movies that I've watched have taken place in fairly modern times (1960s or later). This week, I'm covering a major departure with the martial arts film Ashes of Time. The cast includes familiar faces from the Kar-Wai troupe, including Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chi Wai. The story has similar themes to his other work, even though the setting has changed. For clarification, I checked out the original 1994 version, not the updated Ashes of Time Redux from 2008. Unfortunately, this also caused me to watch a horrible DVD release that likely marred my opinion. Along with poor image quality, the presentation includes many typos in the subtitles. It made me question whether the translation was accurate, which is a necessity for this complex story.

Ou-yang Feng (Leslie Cheung) lives in the desert and works as a mercenary who hires swordsmen for various jobs. He meets a variety of individuals who ask for his services, but their motives aren't clear. One of them is Mu-rong Yin (Brigitte Lin), who sometimes goes by Mu-rong Yang. She's obviously a woman but often masquerades as a man, which only heightens the confusion. Meanwhile, a large group of horse thieves are causing problems, so Ou-yang Feng decides it's time to take them out. This might not be a wise idea.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time.

Although this story takes place in a much different setting than his other films, the themes strongly relate to Wong Kar-Wai's career. The characters are loners who are unable to truly connect. They meet and try to understand what's happening in the others' minds, but it's rarely clear. A good example is Ou-yang Feng's lost love, played with heart-wrenching sadness by Maggie Cheung. She married his brother as revenge against him, and neither are happy with the result. Ou-yang Feng's life as a swordsman didn't make him a good match, and she took it out on him.

This type of fractured relationship is commonplace in Kar-Wai's films. Characters obsess over the past and aren't making their lives better. Mu-rong Yin hates Huang Yao-shi (Tony Leung Ka Fai) for rejecting her, and these feelings are driving her quest. On the other hand, her dual personality wants him to live, which creates a serious conflict. Her past experiences have made her incomplete and unable to move forward.

With the exception of Ou-yang Feng, the other characters drift in and out of the film and lack much depth. It helps that the actors are talented and can sell the limited material, but there's only so much they can do. Kar-Wai adds repeated flashbacks into each conversation, and it becomes difficult to truly understand what's happening on the screen. One of the reasons this post is so difficult is because of the story's convoluted structure. Ashes of Time is based on four characters from the novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jin Yong, but it doesn't retain the plot. I suspect that it would become easier to follow on repeated viewings, but it can be maddening on the first experience. Figures like Tony Leung Chiu Wai's Blind Swordsman are interesting, but it's the mystery more than the actual content that makes him an engaging character to follow.

Swordsman are everywhere in Wong Kar-Wai's Ashes of Time.

Since the plot is largely incoherent, the best scenes were the fights, particularly a massive showdown between Ou-yang Feng and his comrade again a horde of horse thieves. Kar-Wai employs lots of quick cuts and effective sound effects to convey the chaos of this battle. It's not entirely clear what's happening during much of the action, but the visceral effect is stunning. The story never regains the momentum of this section in the final act, which offers a mournful look at how people repeatedly make the wrong decisions in life. Another scene falls more on the maddening side of the action. Brigitte Lin appears in multiple scenes as the different versions of her personality while talking to Ou-yang Feng. The strange part is that she's obviously not a guy and doesn't even offer a convincing disguise. It's hard to take any character seriously when they don't point out the obvious deception that's on display.

Ashes of Time is Wong Kar-Wai's fourth film and a significant departure from his work at that time. Chungking Express was actually released during the same year, though it feels more refined. I'm glad that I was able to see a different type of movie from Kar-Wai, but I'd rank it as the least interesting of the group so far. I'm curious if the Redux version offers an improvement and would be more engaging. If nothing else, the DVD quality has to be better. While it covers similar themes to his other movies and includes a solid cast, there isn't enough in this film to make it required viewing if you're digging into Kar-Wai's early career.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Days of Being Wild
Fallen Angels
Happy Together
In the Mood for Love
My Blueberry Nights
2046

May 2, 2012

Days of Being Wild Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung star in Days of Being Wild.

I finally caught up with Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love in March, and it was even better than I expected. Inspired by my enjoyment of that film, I've decided to go back and check out a good portion of the Chinese director's career. Thus far, the only other choice that I've seen is Chungking Express (also great), so there are plenty of options for this series. This week, I'm heading back to 1990 for his second film Days of Being Wild. This acclaimed movie appears in the top five of several rankings of the best Chinese films of all time. Let's check out the questions and see how it compares to his other films!

In 1960, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) finds it easy to charm the ladies but gets little enjoyment once they've fallen for him. The shy Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) struggles to deal with his callous behavior, while Mimi (Carina Lau) steps in and becomes his girlfriend. Yuddy has issues with his adoptive mother (Rebecca Pan), who refuses to reveal the identity of his birth mother. Meanwhile, Su Li-zhen starts spending time late at night with Tide (Andy Lau), a cop sympathetic to her problems. He's the opposite of Yuddy and starts to have feelings for her. When Yuddy finally gets the chance to search for his birth mother, his trip goes much different than expected, with unfortunate consequences.

As the title suggests, Days of Being Wild portrays the recklessness of young adults with love and other life decisions. Yuddy's seems charming on his first glance, but his personality changes dramatically with each passing day. He doesn't care about the negative impact his actions have on the women in his life and blames his mother for everything. She's hardly a saint and deserves a bit of scorn, but she also supports his lazy lifestyle. 

Yuddy's careless demeanor comes from the way he grew up, and he takes little responsibility for anything. On the other hand, we see two different visions of the difficulties faced by young women in 1960s China. Su Li-zhen works a mundane job and is getting pushed out of her place by relatives. She doesn't have an easy opportunity to improve her life, and this just exacerbates Yuddy's rejection. Mimi is a much louder personality and works as a dancer, but her brash behavior masks serious concerns inside. She tries to stand up to Yuddy and match his nastiness, though it's clear she cares more beneath the surface.

Leslie Cheung stars in Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild.

These are interesting people because we spend a great deal of time with them, but we learn very little. The one exception is Yuddy, who's unlikable but never boring. His journey drives the story, which makes sense but can be difficult when he's repeatedly acting poorly. A character like Su Li-zhen is fairly thin, but it works because Maggie Cheung sells the character. She was 26 years old at the time and well into her career, and the confidence shows even when Su Li-zhen is acting with little bravery on screen. The most interesting secondary character is Tide, who brings a quiet grace to the cop. He longs to be a sailor and finally takes that route, though the result isn't quite what he hoped. Andy Lau is a superstar but never overdoes the role and allows the story to flow smoothly.

Although Yuddy's frustrating, he does provide some great moments during the first hour. The initial seduction of Su Li-zhen is an excellent scene and reveals why she'd fall for him. Once he gets them in his grasp, they continue to want him even when he rejects them completely. Yuddy does have a charming moment with him dancing happily that nearly redeems the character. This is a signature Kar-Wai moment and mirrors scenes we'll see later in Chungking Express. My favorite sequence involves the nighttime strolls with Su Li-zhen and Tide. She spends a large amount of their time together complaining about Yuddy, but he just listens and engages with her as an equal. Their interactions are sweet and differ considerably from much of the movie.

Carina Lau lounges as Miriam in Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild.

Days of Being Wild is Kar-Wai's second film, but it already shows the promise of the talented filmmaker. The story is a bit rougher than his two classics that I've seen, but that's a minor setback. There are many sequences that rank with his best work, particularly a scene near the end where Yuddy tries to buy a passport from shady guys. Kar-wai combines music with a moving camera to build excitement in even the most straightforward sequences. Another connection to the other movies is the cast, which includes actors like Cheung and Rebecca Pan who appear in In the Mood for Love. Tony Leung Chi Wai also shows up for the final scene, which sets up a sequel. While that never occurred, he would show up as a character of the same name in future Kar-wai films.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Fallen Angels
Happy Together
In the Mood for Love
My Blueberry Nights
2046

March 27, 2012

In the Mood for Love Review (Wong Kar-Wai)

Mr. Chow and Mr. Chan share a rare moment in In the Mood for Love.

Wong Kar-Wai's 2000 film In the Mood for Love ranks alongside Chungking Express as his most well-known picture and has received great acclaim over the years. The 55-year-old Chinese filmmaker has directed 10 features, with this being his seventh production. Its main characters (or at least a variation of them) also appeared in The Days of Being Wild (1990) and 2046 (2004). He's known for working without a script and fleshing out the story during production. Critics adore Wong Kar-Wai, who was ranked #3 on Sight & Sound's list of the Top 10 Directors of Modern Times. However, he's not really a household name beyond film experts and deserves more attention.

The year is 1962. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chi Wai) move into adjacent rooms in the same building with their spouses. They pass each other on the stairs and build a silent relationship while spending little time with their significant others. The situation changes when Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan slowly discover that his wife and her husband are having an affair. The couple also realizes they may have romantic feelings beyond that connection. They're unwilling to act on this love, but it continues to grow while their spouses remain absent. Talking around their true feelings yet spending countless hours together, the attractive duo struggles to hide their emotions. There's little chance for a happy ending, but their bond progresses towards a more serious attraction.

The gorgeous set design of Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love.

There's no good reason why I didn't see In the Mood for Love a while ago. It actually was in my DVR three years ago but was lost when we moved into our house. I recorded it again a few months back, and it still took this marathon to force me to watch it. It was clear from the start that my reluctance was misplaced. I'd enjoyed Chungking Express and should have immediately moved on to this equally wonderful movie. Kar-Wai's amazing talent for crafting a sequence rank him among the best currently working. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chi Wai spend most of the film motionless, yet I was still mesmerized for the entire time.
 
This film takes place in the early '60s and incorporates that period's style, but it definitely holds up today. The stunning dresses worn by Mrs. Chan are timeless and remain just as gorgeous now. The remarkable production design helps this film to avoid looking like a period piece and retain a modern feel. This type of story could easily fall into melodrama, but it never goes down that alley. Kar-Wai takes a low-key approach to their romance, with subtle changes indicating the evolution. Cheung and Leung can say plenty with just a glance or a brief smile, so it doesn't take much dialogue to sell it. The characters may be silently hanging out at the rice bar downstairs, but their looks reveal the emotions. This style will likely keep this movie relevant and interesting for a long time into the future.

Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan in a car in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love

We learn very little about Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, but their relationship is compelling and never strikes a false note. Much of this success is due to Kar-Wai's use of color and music, which make even simple conversations feel exciting. We never meet her husband or his wife, and that's important because they're not essential to the story. Their affair pushes the main characters together, but their connection isn't really about revenge. Their spouses are just partially seen props who appear briefly to remind us of the bigger stakes involved. The other supporting characters also don't play a major role. Mrs. Chan's boss is having an affair with a younger woman, and his activities show her what's needed to maintain the deception. Mr. Chow has a few chats with co-workers and friends, but they don't play the typical role of the Greek chorus discussing his plight. This love story must remain a secret, and even the actual participants try to convince themselves that it's not happening.

The majority of the scenes involve characters walking silently by each other and barely speaking, so Kar-Wai finds an inventive way to keep it exciting. He uses repeated interludes with the elegant score to heighten our interest. These remarkable sequences incorporate slow-motion and close-ups to generate just the right mood. Kar-Wai isn't looking to convey plot during these scenes. Instead, he's showing us the subtle ways they're becoming closer. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan start rehearsing how she'd confront her husband about the affair. A later moment feels like a truly emotional scene of Mr. Chow leaving for Signapore, but it's just a rehearsal for the real thing. It's also intriguing to note that Kar-Wai removes scenes that would clarify the story's unclear elements. The mystery surrounds what happened at room 2046, and deleted scenes on the DVD make that very clear. By removing this information, he leaves it up to the audience to decide how far the couple actually went.
 
Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) struggles with his lost love in In the Mood for Love.

In the Mood for Love is a wonderful film that goes far above even my high expectations. I've heard plenty of acclaim for this movie, but it didn't go far enough. I'm definitely going to check out more of Kong-Wai's career in the near future after seeing this masterpiece. This is one of the best films that I've seen since I started the blog a year ago. I'm also interesting in catching more from Leung and Cheung's careers. This isn't the first time that I'd seen either actor, but the previous work didn't prepare me for their performances here. They take a thin story from Kar-Wai and make us root for the characters. This trio works together and delivers a movie that would likely rank among my favorites from the 2000s.

Other Wong Kar-Wai Reviews

Ashes of Time
Days of Being Wild
Fallen Angels
Happy Together
My Blueberry Nights
2046