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Ah Fei jing juen (1990)
Contrary to other reviewer's notions of the film, "Days of Being Wild" does have a plot. The movie is a tale of existential angst. Stephen Teo places the movie in the area of quasi gangster cum romance. In short "Days of Being Wild" is, in the tradition of "Rebel without a Cause" an 'ah fei' movie - a story of lost youth. A large portion of the movie centers on dysfunctional relationships and each and every character's existentialist angst. A really short synopsis follows. The movie is set in 1960s. Leslie Cheung plays the lead character of Yuddy - a self destructive narcissist who constantly hurts women.
In this movie, much like "Ashes in Time" the target of his self destruction is Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung). As previously stated, the film centers on the youthful, Yuddy, who learns from the drunken ex-consort who raised him that she not his real mother. Yuddy's real mother has left him in her care and moved to the Philippines. Much of the story is situated around Yuddy's need to go to the Philippines to see his mother. I would assume that the lack of connection to the mother is part of the motivation for Yuddy's 'early object loss' and hence his inability to connect with either Su Lizhen or Lulu (a character who will show up again in 2046). Yuddy's "auntie," hoping to hold onto him, steadfastly refuses to reveal the name of his real mother. The revelation, predictably, unsettles Yuddy to his very center, unleashing a cavalcade of irreconcilable emotions.
Two women form the two pillars of Yuddy's existential angst and not surprisingly have the bad luck of falling in love with Yuddy. Similar to Tomas - the main character of Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" Yuddy cannot settle down and is stuck (at least in his head) in the liminal space of both/and. Yet, the reality is that he is trapped in the world of either/or and not both/end. Just as Tomas cannot have Sabina AND Teresa, Yuddy cannot have both Su Lizhen AND Mimi. Both are beset with choices.
On the one hand, we have Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) who works at a sports arena selling refreshments at a kiosk. On the other hand, juxtaposed against Su Lizhen's 'plainness' (if we can ever call Maggie Cheung 'plain') is the persona of the glitzy showgirl Lulu or Mimi. It is clearly 'early object loss' that leaves Yuddy cold. As Lizhen slowly intimates her deep hurt over what is happening to her and Yuddy to Tide (Andy Lau), Tide begins to fall for her. The same, it is argued, might be said for Yuddy's Sancho Panza - Zeb (Jacky Cheung). Zeb find himself falling in love with Lulu. Yuddy learns of his birth mother's whereabouts and heads out to the Philippines. In the Philippines, he meets up with Tide and they encounter thugs who - not impressed with the 'ah fei' Yuddy, well, do him in. The last minute appearance of Tony Leung seems like a setup for the next movie... too bad we have not had the pleasure... yet? The movie may be all about Leslie Cheung but we should not forget the performances of Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, and Rebecca Pan. Despite the characters circling around the Yuddy character - each brings a dimension of their own into the movie. The strength, it is often argued, of Wong Kar Wai's movies is his highly developed (or undeveloped, yet very deep) characters.
Par for the course, just like all his other movies, "Days of Being Wild" is visually stunning. Working with Christopher Doyle, 1961 Hong Kong comes to life. As a Filipino abroad, I could not help but feel nostalgic when the movie shifted to the Philippines. I know that 1960s in the Philippines was one filled with cars and urban centers and not only the lush jungle scenes that fill the mise-en-scene. Who cares... it is only a movie and a good one at that. The movie draws from all angles for its greatness - the characters, the acting, the mise-en-scene, the cinematography, the whole ball of wax. The movie can be analyzed on many levels and I fail to do that here. However, on one level, like voyeurs we watch Yuddy's self destruction and enjoy the cathartic element of the 'ah fei.' Bravo Wong Kar Wai! One more movie please! Miguel Llora
Do lok tin si (1995)
Everything you have seen before and nothing like anything you have seen before.
One thing is for sure - it is everything you have seen before and nothing like anything you have seen before. As a Wong Kar-wai junkie, I have to admit - it is getting harder and harder to find a favorite - Fallen Angels is among the top three. In one sense I really loved Fallen Angels because it is full of the same urban angst brought up in Chungking Express. There is something utterly and strikingly gorgeous about Wong Kar-Wai's movies. The mise-en-scene and backdrops his characters inhabit in that give each scene a particular almost brooding feeling. Wong Kar-Wai's are lost and lonely in a world that is dark and full of despair. Fallen Angels is no different.
Fallen Angels' Hong Kong is alive in the evenings. One could argue that the cinematography captures a dreamlike state, pure urban neon, and erotic. In Fallen Angels we travel the gritty back alleys (reminiscent of Chunking Express) into underworld dives, dreary dive bars juxtaposed against a brightly-lit McDonalds. I have to say this... Wong Kar-wai does somewhat put me off with his product placement - but we have to finance our projects somehow, I guess.
Leon Lai's is a lazy hired killer. His portrayal, it can be argues is weighty and conjures up a sense of gaudy (almost caddy) persona. I am reminded of Yuddy in Days of Being Wild. Lai is wonderful as a contradiction of apathy and poetry. Lai plays it with a languid air. Every move is deliberate - smooth. Conversely, Michelle Reis' is his doppelganger - his manager. She is obsessed with him, becomes emotionally attached to him. I would argue that a sense of betrayal set the stage for the hit man's final demise. A nighttime ride in the back of a motorcycle with He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) leads me wonder is she has comes undone. Love though, and its many forms of cruelty is a recurring theme with Wong Kar-wai. Oh that sweet betrayal... He Zhiwu is a potent character. The relationship He Zhiwu develops with his father is proof positive that even in the broken world of dysfunctionality there resides a lotus from the marshes. The videotape sessions, at first almost humorous, forms yet another center of love shattered - sometimes we need to really treasure what we have lest it slip by so suddenly... he Zhiwu is a symbol of the lyricism of youth.
One has to admit, even after Chunking Express, Fallen Angels is different from any Hong Kong movie. Driven by inner monologue (much like the later much acclaimed The Follow from The Hire series) it draws one in. The languid tone and deeply erotic tale is one that will stand the test of time. Fallen Angels according to Teo takes over from where Chungking Express leaves of. I argue that it brought Chungking Express to a whole new realm. Fallen Angels is Chungking Express on steroids.
Chun gwong cha sit (1997)
In the Pantheon of Favorites
I come into the discourse of Wong Kar-wai a bit late in the game. Seeing "Happy Together" after having seen "2046" - well it totally skewed my viewing. I saw in the last scene - the cityscape scene - the start of "2046." To be perfectly honest, I am not surprised that Wong Kar-Wai received the Best Director award at Cannes in 1997 for "Happy Together." "Happy Together" is a story of the relationship between two homosexuals set in Buenos Aires - but just like all Wong Kar-wai movies it is also about more than just a straight up narrative. In this movie - as we do with others of Wong Kar-Wai oeuvre we are beset with musings of the hopeless romantic.
Wong Kar-Wai zeroes in on the relationship between Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung), acting like a typical married couple, a point of view that most viewers should be able to relate to - whether gay or straight. Lai and Ho are ex-pats stuck in Buenos Aires. After an ill-planned attempt to see the Iguazu Falls - they drift apart. Lai becomes a doorman at a tango club, where he exists from hand to mouth. Lai's wages barely allowing him to live in his claustrophobic flat in a rundown building. The mise-en-scene is one of the most striking signatures of Wong Kar-wai. The claustrophobic cityscape is played out in "Days of Being Wild," continued in "In the Mood for Love," and culminates aesthetically in "2046." Ho, conversely, sells himself out as a gigolo, making a living as a sycophant in a series of one-night stands. After finding Ho bleeding on the street, beaten up by a trick gone badly, Lai takes Ho back and takes care of him. The spirit of Iguazu is always a looming presence with the tacky lamp.
Happy Together exemplifies the hallmark signatures of Wong Kar-Wai's. The black and white strategy is inexplicably wonderful - it had me at hello. The story, rather than being plot-driven, is theme-driven, with many layers of interpretation. The characters are (as usual) a juxtaposition of existential issues writ-small. The contrast between Lai and Ho is on one level the more obvious tension that Wong sets up. Lai is the more reserved and arguably the more "maternal" of the two. Stephen Teo makes the argument that contrary to public opinion, this movie is not a re-enshrinement of Leung's masculinity. I agree with Teo in that the taking in by Lai and caring for Ho is affirmation of Lai's "femininity." Hard to figure what was going through Wong Kar-wai's head when he did this but it seemed like a conscious attempt to reify in our mind the homosexual persona of Lai. We already know that the late Leslie Cheung was an open homosexual - which somewhat already informs our watching of him. Conversely, it is the strong heterosexual persona that Tony Leung has cultivated that somewhat hinders believability. But, for the movie's sake I believe. Lai is haunted by his thieving past. Ho, the more aimless of the pair - is not saddled by memories - time is not an issue with him. Hearkening back to his role in "Days of Being Wild" - he is once again self destructive - Yuddy but homosexual.
"Happy Together" is unfortunately not my favorite Wong Kar-wai movie. However, having said that it is arguably my favorite Wong Kar-wai film in terms of its cinematography. It captures for me the inner city struggle that my favorite "In the Mood for Love" could not. Since "Chunking Express" was a lighter film - it did not have that same impact on me as this did. The movie is perhaps the straighter in terms of narrative with the usual existential angst and the usual very, very stylish-camera work. In terms of its angst and desperation examination, I have to but it up there with the pantheon of favorites. Bravo! Miguel Llora
Director Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre hits a form of culmination - if one can say that these things come to some sort of end - in his dazzling movie 2046. This is classic Wong Kar-wai with a twist. We get the usual picture period sets (complete with detailed costuming), purposely orchestrated atmospheres or mise-en-scene, unhurried shots, the perfunctory glam cigarette smokers, soft light and to some extent film noir pretension. Teo calls Wong Kar-wai the "Auteur of Time" and 2046 is nothing short of rumination and contemplation on memory/time, sexiness/non-contact, love/loss, and incompleteness which are the hallmarks of Wong Kar-wai. Contrary to what other reviewers might allude to this movie does not surpasses (much less "transcend") "In the Mood for Love." Wong Kar-wai, in order to be fully appreciated has to be watched many times - and this movie is no exception. Multi-layered and non-linear, 2046 seems - at least on one level the celebration of Zhang Ziyi. The movie follows the adventures of Chow Wo Man (Tony Leung), a writer of science fiction novels. Chow focuses on a future year 2046 (that according to Stephen Teo alludes to the 50 year anniversary of the turnover of Hong Kong) a "space" where memories are suspended.
The film's opening scene is reminiscent of Wong's masterpiece "Happy Together." A scene that captures the impersonal nature of cityscapes with lives intertwined but not really. The look is cross between "Blade Runner" juxtaposed with 1960s Hong Kong. Chow writes from a hotel room, and engages in relationships with a series of beautiful, complex women - and what a set of women at that. Where else can you get a powerhouse set like this together: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takuya Kimura, Zhang Ziyi, Li Gong, Faye Wong, Carina Lau, and Maggie Cheung - to name a few. The film journeys to Singapore but only in the progressively more mysterious hallways of the Chow's memory.
2046 constantly rejects the neat story summary (which is my excuse for being all over the place) with its disjointed and at time meandering plot construction. However, coupled with Wong's luxurious cinematography and astounding techniques, it is as fluid, associative, and Kafkaesque labyrinthine as memory itself - and it works. Transitioning between deftly detailed realism and sumptuous, expressionistic allegory, the movie is a deeply intoxicating experience. Even given its all over the place, oftentimes chaotic story, 2046, I have to admit, creates a (as usual) moving, emotionally stimulating, and richly gratifying experience.
In short, it all about being an "artsy-fartsy" movie! The usual suspects of soliloquy of sorts to love affairs, love spats and yes, the perfunctory heartbreaks are always a hit with me. Does Wong Kar-wai run the risk of creating his own "formula?" Who knows, eh? Until people get tired of his Kunderaesque fortuity then we will just keep trooping to his movies. It is a "no brainer" that one gets easily caught up in this film's late '60s mood and texture. It demonstrates the timeless quality of Wong Kar-wai's movies.
I can't really leave this exercise without making comment on the actors. The movie was nothing short of eye candy - even the women made comment. Tony Leung Chiu Wai, who played the lead "cool cat" is somewhat related yet somewhat removed from the character that he developed in "In the Mood for Love." Zhang Ziyi was well playing Zhang Ziyi - that mousy, come hither, persona that made her famous. Wong Kar-wai has to be recognized for bringing this powerhouse case together. The problem I had with the movie - here goes: For the average viewer, well they will walk away - much like they did with classics like "As Tears Go By" and "Days of Being Wild" will walk away saying "I just didn't get it." This is not "In the Mood for Love" and perhaps if reviewers like me stop trying too hard to make the connections we might just really be able to enjoy ourselves.
2046 is a "human relationship" movie. But there is moreover somewhere in the movie a vision - that includes androids - complete with tears postponed - that really touches us about what falling in love is like. 2046 dabbles in things like devotion, perhaps. It made me pause to think of a future where the simulacra looks like the real thing. For the complexity, the juxtaposition, the poignant look at love - I will be dragged in kicking and screaming to watch this movie again... and again. Not to mention that I was lost in the switches between the future (2046) and the past (1960s) or was it really all just one jumbled mess.
Wong Gok ka moon (1988)
Building Blocks to Greatness
As Tears Go By is the pure 'Ah Fei' offering from Wong Kar-wai. Stephen Teo writes that you take one part Scorcese's "Mean Streets," and you add one part Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise" (Teo 16) and you have one heck of a Triad film. A triad sibling Wah (Andy Lau) has his little brother Fly's (Jackie Cheung) back. Fly is constantly in trouble. Added to the mix is Wah's cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) who needing a place to stay while getting a checkup at the local hospital stays in his flat. The Wah and Ngor mysteriously fall in love - sort of that charm of the bad boy business. However, in order to get anything on with Ngor, Wah needs to settle up for the ill will accumulated by Fly. That is the short of it. Being Wong Kar-wai's first film - it is understandable that he has not really developed his oeuvre. Andy Lau, convincingly played a triad brother, reminds one of the dysfunctional characters that Wong cultivates. One would not know it if one's entry into the labyrinth of Wong Kar-wai is through this movie but I guess this movie lays the framework for his adherence to genre in an effort to belong. Maggie Cheung is stunning. She will eventually develop into the forlorn lover in later movies like "Days of Being Wild" and "In the Mood for Love" and Jackie Cheung, plays the never do well 'Ah Fei' who is destined to bite it. Difficult to get too deep here but according to Stephen Teo we really do not see the promise that Wong Kar-wai eventually delivers. I have to disagree. I think, to some extent, we do see the promise that Wong-Kar-wai brings to cinema - the dark brooding characters who all too often defy time and identity are beginning to show themselves in this movie. The trick is to move forward from here to open new spaces of consideration in a movie world so eager to adhere to codes and rules that exemplify genre or worse formula. Kudos all around.
Dung che sai duk (1994)
The movie is a wuxia movie with a twist. That twist is what makes Wong Kar Wai the celebrated director/filmmaker that he is. Wong Kar Wai sticks to genre and then takes it to the next level by doing what he does best, breaks it down - and uses his highly idiosyncratic style of cinematography. The movie is very loosely (and I mean very loosely) based on Jin Yong's "The Eagle Shooting Heroes." So loose in fact that one could argue that this movie is neither a wuxia movie or based on the book. Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) is a disillusioned swordsman for hire. He left White Camel Mountain to run an inn in the desert. Ouyang Feng's real business is to serve as a middle-man between mercenaries and those who need them. He is all business. Among those who come into his space are Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai) - who is involved with Feng's former love interest, Murong Yin/Murong Yang (Brigitte Lin) - being one and the same, she both loves and hates Huang Yaoshi. Others include a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) who wishes to see his love and home before he finally loses his site. The couple, of sorts, that defy explanation is the combination of the blind woman played by Charlie Yeung and the character Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), a swordsman who comes to her aid. To top that off, we should not forget the moving performances of Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung - without whom this picture would not be complete.
Stephen Teo argues that it is Kar Wai's characters that make his movies. In a move that follows "Days of Being Wild," it is the characters that show up for the smallest amount of time that leave a lasting impression. In the case of "Days of Being Wild," the last minute appearance by Tony Leung is arguably his best. In "Ashes of Time," Maggie Cheung shows up for only for a few minutes but she impacts all of Leslie Cheung's character. Carina Lau's character (and hands) is stunning - enough said.
"Ashes of Time" is a wild movie about love, desperation, and forgetting. Wong Kar Wai is better known as a director of art house films such as "Days of Being Wild" (available on Amazon.com) and a later movie - and my personal favorite - "In the Mood for Love" (also available on Amazon.com). His trademark style of seemingly freeform story telling and inventive imagery are deftly combined with Christopher Doyle's cinematography to produce this masterpiece. "Ashes of Time" is Wong's only wuxia movie to date. In it we find, I argue, his most developed characters and sense of experimentation. Certainly recommend it to those wuxia fans out there... but don't expect the clean story lines of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers... this one is messy and that makes all the difference.
Fa yeung nin wah (2000)
ITMFL inhabits that liminal space of promise!
This is perhaps the sexiest movie ever made - ironically, there is no nudity. Kudos all around to Wong Kar-Wai for delivering this movie classic; wondering why he reversed himself by releasing 2046, which is the exact opposite. Wong Kar-Wai sends us on a tailspin by using the camera to do his work for him instead of using lurid exploitation scenes.
Yearning and possibility is one of the great emotions of the human experience. Perhaps I was seduced by the very thing that has driven poets to write sonnets, artists to create great works of art, and musicians to wrench our comfort. It is a feeling that almost everyone who has not been, should be touched by, either through unrequited love or the deep pain of strong emotions that can not be fully expressed - by word or otherwise. Hong Kong movie maker Wong Kar-Wai, whose resume includes such great features as Chungking Express and Happy Together, has a deep understanding and pathos turning this insight into the mise-en-scene of longing and an unexplainable sexiness that does not just come from the panning of Maggie Cheung but the tension set forth by not being able to just do what one feels like doing. In this feature (as opposed to 2046), Wong Kar-Wai brings to presence a transcendence that cannot be copied by any other film. In the Mood for Love is a classic as he brings to presence that deep sense of longing so missed in current offerings.
The plot is uncomplicated. War Kar-Wai is pure genius as he takes the time to detail the scenes as the whole movie takes place in 1962 Hong Kong, were Tony Leung (Chow) bumps into Maggie Cheung (Li-Zhen) where by some twist of fate end up next-door neighbors in an apartment building. I don't believe that it is just an excuse to place two good looking people together but rather it is a modality to set up the scene to explore veiled emotions and cloaked feelings. They are two struggling characters - he a journalist; she a secretary. The two develop a close friendship, and the link between them develops into something deeper and more lasting than a casual affair. Limited by cultural oppression and feelings of profound guilt, and this is where I feel the film is sexiest, they never act upon those physical impulse. Mind you, don't get me wrong, I am not an advocate for love going unrequited but the scene of self-denial and the closeness as well as the tension lends itself to such a reaction. Both Chow and Li-Zhen remain true to their marriage promise despite the cost to themselves.
Irony all around - despite the fact they are not doing anything wrong, they both engage in stolen whispers, longing looks, and clandestine meetings. Craving smothered by decorum. Wong Kar-Wai's absorbing, mysterious In the Mood for Love is a power play in desire and denial. It is the sexiness of the tension that is played out only in the mind and not in the flesh. The film inhabits that liminal space of promise - which is why I was so taken by it. It is artistic because we are left to imagine what is possible and what is not, see why things that are suppressed and why they should not be. Not to mention that Wong Kar-Wai weaves an erotic web around two of Hong Kong's most exciting stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, then lets us the audiences write or imagine our own story. Bravo to Wong Kar-Wai and the Criterion Collection for making this possible.
Ice Princess (2005)
Cute and Serious
This 'chase your dream/against all odds' fantasy is a light diversion in a Hollywood culture steeped in blockbuster mode. Ice Princess attempts to treat the issue of female achievement with both charm and weightiness. One is almost tempted (I say almost tempted because it still falls under the very successful Disney Channel formula of a challenged teenage life and happy ending) to forgive the every ready show of single motherhood as fanatical stage moms driving their kids to the fulfillment of their dreams rather than encouraging the same to seek happiness and true fulfillment.
Both Kim Cattral and Joan Cusak play mothers who pressure their daughters into career they seemed all too disappointed about not having achieved. Their daughters, in effect, are stand-ins of their own unfulfilled dreams. Casey, the true focus of the movie is played by Michelle Trachtenberg, as a Harvard-bound physics nerd who aspires to challenge all the planning and hard work to become a world class figure skater. Conversely Gen, played by Hayden Panettiere, is the Cattral prodigy who is forced into the role of apprentice skating champ - chasing her mother's Olympic dreams - the dreams lost when she lost (disqualified, as the story goes) in Sarajevo - and just wants to be normal. True to the Hollywood/Disney formula there is the perfunctory supportive and accessible 'hunk' (who just happens to be Gen's bother) in Trevor Blumas. Directed by Tim Fywell and written by Hadley Davis, Ice Princess is a story pegged on the duality of very pushy mothers in Cusak and Cattral whose daughters are being pushed in the direction that runs counter to their dreams.
Despite the movie's predictability, the Ice Princess had moments of seriousness (almost lapses, actually) in the core subject matter of passionate loyalties amidst the cutthroat competitiveness of the figure-skating world. Yes, you will be treated to the attractive figure skating but Fywell is not tempted to push it over the top. Cusack and Cattrall bring a mature complexity to their difficult roles as mothers who are trying to control the raging hormones and resultant attitude. Problematic in some areas, the movie does bring to presence the very important issues of coming of age, parental interference, and long term career planning. Unrealistic at best, to think that after all that was invested, a Harvard bound student (not to mention the Olympic bound skater) would throw it all away on a one-in-a-million chance at 'true happiness' but we can always live vicariously in this imaginary space - which is why we will continue to be attracted to movies like Ice Princess.