Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hong Kong Elegy Part I

The thought has often occurred to me that since I can be such an internal apocalpyse at times, that many of my interests tend to be applied in a fashion that is more in tune with the immediate rather than the meticulous. On one hand it can be considered lazy, while on the other, it is within the moment, filled with a grand love for unpredictability without restraint. It's just hard to place into words exactly it is that draws me into works that embrace this. Which is why when these thoughts occur, it is almost certain that a Wong Kar Wai marathon is somewhere, formulating in my mind and near imminent.

The Hong Kong auteur is no secret among my favorite film spinners. Particularly his works in the 90s, where he began to fins his own particular voice, and became infamous for extended, unprecedentedly long shoots without scripts, and sometimes merely a notion of plot. But within these particular works reside a soul longing for things intangible, a fundamental need to explore the world around him, without underlining his points with a bold black marker. Particularly his urban-centric pieces that seem to elliptically venture into feelings of both love and nostalgia within the seemingly cold doldrums of city life. Everyone is connected despite their lack of knowing each other directly. The romance comes not from merely declaring unrequited feelings, but from the small impressions left by others. And as so many lives intersect, the dweller knows within themselves a transformation has been sparked. Whether it be the inimitable Days Of Being Wild (1990), or the international darling Chungking Express(1994), Kar Wai's explorations into not only the Hong Kong experience, but of the ephemeral nature of the heart, are staggering even now.

And let's not skimp on the other element that has made the man's works so popular, few directors have the ability to simply make their lead actors look so amazing. What is likely obsessiveness, or plain visual saavy, his films create a framing that is wonderful for his actors. Even at their most anti-glamour moments in each film, his work with the ever terrific Christopher Doyle makes each star iconic in ways that few filmmakers can. Significant examples to me includes the imagery of a young Maggie Cheung working isolated shifts at the snack shop in Days. Or even the less than flattering, more disheveled looks Leslie Cheung & Tony Leung share in Happy Together(1997). And this extends well beyond the kind of looks we grew accustomed to with magazine shoots, and fashion ads. The looks are infused with feeling, often longing. Despite what some may imagine at the offset, the internal worlds of his characters carry great resonance through their facial expressions and body language - and it's something that isn't terribly easy to achieve.

On through 1995's Fallen Angels, the journeys of these intersecting lives continue to blur lines of individual realities, often opening doors into the surreal. No doubt compounded by budgetary limitations, the reuse of familiar locations also assists is in giving the films a sort of singular universal feel that implies more than any mere sequel can. The world continues to expand, adding layers to what often feels like a stream-of-consciousness visual poem.

(to be continued..)


  1. I always got the impression that along with the feelings of unrequited love, there is also a reluctance on some of his characters' parts to follow through on what would ultimately make them happy, particularly in his later works.

  2. Oh, definitely. It's this unspoken tug-of-war that is played on constantly through his films. And the beauty of it is often represented via mere looks. Kar Wai's a huge believer of the body expression, and it really shows in his work.