Waong Kar-Wai: a Top View

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  • Topic: Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, Faye Wong
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  • Published : May 8, 2013
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Wong Kar Wai: A Top View

"When did everything start to have an expiration date?"

That's a question posed by a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar-Wai's 1994 film ChungKing Express, and in a sense that line is a conveys what Wong's films are all about. Wong Kar-Wai’s body of work has an immanent sense of flowing time and space that creates a blend that gives us the sense of fleeting time, memory and the chaos of the contemporary urban life. He is one of the most influential directors of Hong Kong with an impressionistic visual style. Mostly known for his films like, ChungKing Express (1994), Fallen Angels (1995), In the Mood for Love (2000), Wong has a distinct postmodern sense of structuring and styling his films. It is a collage of the most astonishing images and metaphors overlaid with dreamy dialogues, monologues and an unusual use of music that articulates this mix, producing a brilliant result. The ambiguity stimulates a bundle of feelings and imagination that touches us at the subconscious level.

This chapter takes a top view of the riddle and enigma of Wong Kar-Wai through the filter of key film theorists and authors. He is one of the few Hong Kong Chinese directors who are instantly recognized in the west. Quite aptly, his cinema is an assemblage of Eastern and Western features. But it is worthwhile to understand Wong as a Hong Kong filmmaker, how he reaches out to a global audience with his strong local roots and this blend of the global and local sensibilities. One of the major propositions is that he has been able to rise above the typical Hong Kong identity and surpass the pulp-fiction genre which mostly stands for the Hong Kong film industry. His moody and introspective films have more in common with European art house than the blood soaked crime sagas. They are rich in subtexts and symbolism and was rightly rewarded the Best Director Award in the Cannes (1997) for Happy Together. Secondly, in the Western eyes, he is a post-modern artist who brings forth more than the superficial stereotypes of the East. This practice in return reflects the real condition of Hong Kong, constituting both sides of the world. Wong evokes these certain versions of Hong Kong and manifests it into the fictional space of the narrative. Wong belongs to the Second Wave directors from Hong Kong who had actually worked as assistants for the First Wave directors like Tsui Hark, Ann Hui and Patrick Tam (with whom Wong worked and collaborated). These directors worked in the Hong Kong which was clouded by uncertainty due to the 1984 Sino-British Agreement outlining the handover of Hong Kong to China. This issue was translated into film by the Second Wave of Hong Kong cinema, not with outright cynicism but much introspection and rendered Hong Kong to a new level of maturity.(1) With time, these themes of identity matured and got modernized. Hong Kong’s identity has always been marked by the confluence of the influences of motherland China and the Western link established by the British colonial rule. And therefore, history has shown us how Hong Kong has churned out its own ‘culturally specific identity’ which is a blend of both Chinese and Western elements. Therefore Hong Kong successfully reflects this dual identity and establishes a third one which is much localized and a merger.(2)

With his refreshing style and unique fashion, a single shot or score or quote can make one fall for his creations. The fragile, fleeting nature of love becomes the heart of his films usually like, Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000). Happy Together hovers over the ruins of love with a dysfunctional couple which is falling apart while staying together in Buenos Aires. We see a slow demise and moments of melancholy, intense intimacy and loneliness. It represents ‘regret’ with such poignancy through bereft characters. They are highly visual. He builds a world which is sensual and tangible. In In Mood for Love, he brings us a lush, nostalgic and...
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