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3

Indeed, it is worth our while to run through just what kinds of genres Wong’s films belong to. As Tears Goes By is a gangster movie in the mould of Scorsese and John Woo; it is also a romance melodrama. Days of Being Wild is an ‘Ah Fei’ movie-cum-romance (‘Ah Fei’ being a distinctive Cantonese genre, and slang for young ruffian or discontented punk). Chungking Express is a light romance with touches of noir intrigue (at least in the first part of the movie featuring Brigitte Lin, whose iconic presence evokes more the romantic melodramas of the 1970s with which she made her name). Ashes of Time is a wuxia (martial chivalry) movie with characters culled from a popular martial arts novel. Fallen Angels starts off as a movie about a profes- sional killer and changes direction into various strands of melodrama (including a father-and-son relationship movie). Happy Together is a gay road movie romance trailing a pre-1997 anomie theme. In the Mood for Love is a wenyi film in the classic style, indicating a melodrama with Chinese characteristics, fundamentally a love story about repressed desire.

From these descriptions, while it is true that all these films are essentially genre films that fall within the traditions of Hong Kong cinema, it is equally true that they are transformed by Wong’s iconoclastic approach, such that it is possible to insist that they are not genre films, although they may be implicit tributes to the forms and conventions of genre film-making in the Hong Kong cinema. [...]

—p.3 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Indeed, it is worth our while to run through just what kinds of genres Wong’s films belong to. As Tears Goes By is a gangster movie in the mould of Scorsese and John Woo; it is also a romance melodrama. Days of Being Wild is an ‘Ah Fei’ movie-cum-romance (‘Ah Fei’ being a distinctive Cantonese genre, and slang for young ruffian or discontented punk). Chungking Express is a light romance with touches of noir intrigue (at least in the first part of the movie featuring Brigitte Lin, whose iconic presence evokes more the romantic melodramas of the 1970s with which she made her name). Ashes of Time is a wuxia (martial chivalry) movie with characters culled from a popular martial arts novel. Fallen Angels starts off as a movie about a profes- sional killer and changes direction into various strands of melodrama (including a father-and-son relationship movie). Happy Together is a gay road movie romance trailing a pre-1997 anomie theme. In the Mood for Love is a wenyi film in the classic style, indicating a melodrama with Chinese characteristics, fundamentally a love story about repressed desire.

From these descriptions, while it is true that all these films are essentially genre films that fall within the traditions of Hong Kong cinema, it is equally true that they are transformed by Wong’s iconoclastic approach, such that it is possible to insist that they are not genre films, although they may be implicit tributes to the forms and conventions of genre film-making in the Hong Kong cinema. [...]

—p.3 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
8

The shape of the industry has changed from King Hu’s time, when an
artist of Hu’s calibre could not be accommodated by the system, to one
where an artist of Wong’s ability can call the shots and play the game adroitly
within the industry. The reality is that since Wong came into critical promi-
nence in the early 1990s, the film industry has been plagued by a shrinking
regional market that resulted from the financial meltdown in the economies
of the area. It is easy to dismiss Wong’s long shooting schedules and his
impromptu working style as irresponsible in the light of this economic cri-
sis, but he is a director who goes against the grain of slipshoddiness, seven-
day wonders (or the practice of shooting a film quickly, as fast as a week in
the old days) and a system dominated by producers and compromised by
powerful big-name stars. Aesthetically, Wong set the standards of painstak-
ing craftsmanship in mise en scène, production design, cinematography,
editing and music. He also sets another standard by blending literature and
cinema through the evocative use of voiceover monologues, giving each
character an interior voice and a point of view that makes them stakehold-
ers in the narrative – singling him out as a rare literary stylist as well as a
visual one.

—p.8 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The shape of the industry has changed from King Hu’s time, when an
artist of Hu’s calibre could not be accommodated by the system, to one
where an artist of Wong’s ability can call the shots and play the game adroitly
within the industry. The reality is that since Wong came into critical promi-
nence in the early 1990s, the film industry has been plagued by a shrinking
regional market that resulted from the financial meltdown in the economies
of the area. It is easy to dismiss Wong’s long shooting schedules and his
impromptu working style as irresponsible in the light of this economic cri-
sis, but he is a director who goes against the grain of slipshoddiness, seven-
day wonders (or the practice of shooting a film quickly, as fast as a week in
the old days) and a system dominated by producers and compromised by
powerful big-name stars. Aesthetically, Wong set the standards of painstak-
ing craftsmanship in mise en scène, production design, cinematography,
editing and music. He also sets another standard by blending literature and
cinema through the evocative use of voiceover monologues, giving each
character an interior voice and a point of view that makes them stakehold-
ers in the narrative – singling him out as a rare literary stylist as well as a
visual one.

—p.8 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
9

It is perhaps best to see Wong’s slow and protracted production sched-
ules through the looking-glass of a style of film-making that has a time-
honoured line: one could cite Erich von Stroheim and the making of Greed
(1925), Orson Welles’s Othello (1952) and Don Quixote (1957), and King Hu’s
A Touch of Zen (1969), as well as the fastidious methods of Terrence Malick,
Martin Scorsese, Michael Powell and David Lean. One could also point to
the experimental avant-garde cinema: for example, Harry Smith’s
Mahagonny (1980), a massive visual translation of Weill and Brecht’s opera
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which was constructed from eleven
hours of footage shot over a period of ten years. On the intimate scale,
Wong’s style may be likened to the Dogme school without the dogma; the
minimalism of Suzuki, Antonioni, Godard, Bresson, Ruiz and Jarmusch;
and the free improvisatory style of independent film-makers like John
Cassavetes and Rob Nilsson.

—p.9 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It is perhaps best to see Wong’s slow and protracted production sched-
ules through the looking-glass of a style of film-making that has a time-
honoured line: one could cite Erich von Stroheim and the making of Greed
(1925), Orson Welles’s Othello (1952) and Don Quixote (1957), and King Hu’s
A Touch of Zen (1969), as well as the fastidious methods of Terrence Malick,
Martin Scorsese, Michael Powell and David Lean. One could also point to
the experimental avant-garde cinema: for example, Harry Smith’s
Mahagonny (1980), a massive visual translation of Weill and Brecht’s opera
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which was constructed from eleven
hours of footage shot over a period of ten years. On the intimate scale,
Wong’s style may be likened to the Dogme school without the dogma; the
minimalism of Suzuki, Antonioni, Godard, Bresson, Ruiz and Jarmusch;
and the free improvisatory style of independent film-makers like John
Cassavetes and Rob Nilsson.

—p.9 Introduction (1) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
20

[...] Wong had his own rationale for the emotional relationships in the film:

It’s very difficult to describe why a man likes a woman, and the deep feelings
between two brothers, and so on. They are all very subtle. But I wanted to put
forward the proposition that time is the biggest factor. The relationship between
people is like opening a calendar. You leave your trace on each day. Emotions
come without your being aware of them. I don’t know why I want to help you,
but I’ve done it. (my emphasis)

—p.20 In Mainstream Gear: As Tears Go By (15) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] Wong had his own rationale for the emotional relationships in the film:

It’s very difficult to describe why a man likes a woman, and the deep feelings
between two brothers, and so on. They are all very subtle. But I wanted to put
forward the proposition that time is the biggest factor. The relationship between
people is like opening a calendar. You leave your trace on each day. Emotions
come without your being aware of them. I don’t know why I want to help you,
but I’ve done it. (my emphasis)

—p.20 In Mainstream Gear: As Tears Go By (15) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
22

Wah decides to chase after Ngor by making the trip to Lantau, where he discovers that she is being courted by a young doctor. Disheartened, he waits to depart on the ferry. But Ngor then leaves a message on his pager (a marker of the times before mobile phones became the norm) asking him to wait at the pier. She returns; there is a brief moment of suspense as the pier seems to be deserted; then suddenly, Wah grabs her hand from behind and runs towards a phone booth, where they kiss passionately, to the strains of the Canto-pop version of ‘Take My Breath Away’ that overlays the whole sequence. Their affair comes rather late in the picture, and the dialogue illustrates this awareness of the time dimension: ‘Why did you leave it so late?’ Ngor asks Wah. ‘Because I know myself,’ Wah replies, ‘and I don’t want to make any promises. If I didn’t miss you, I won’t look for you.’

ugh so good

—p.22 In Mainstream Gear: As Tears Go By (15) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Wah decides to chase after Ngor by making the trip to Lantau, where he discovers that she is being courted by a young doctor. Disheartened, he waits to depart on the ferry. But Ngor then leaves a message on his pager (a marker of the times before mobile phones became the norm) asking him to wait at the pier. She returns; there is a brief moment of suspense as the pier seems to be deserted; then suddenly, Wah grabs her hand from behind and runs towards a phone booth, where they kiss passionately, to the strains of the Canto-pop version of ‘Take My Breath Away’ that overlays the whole sequence. Their affair comes rather late in the picture, and the dialogue illustrates this awareness of the time dimension: ‘Why did you leave it so late?’ Ngor asks Wah. ‘Because I know myself,’ Wah replies, ‘and I don’t want to make any promises. If I didn’t miss you, I won’t look for you.’

ugh so good

—p.22 In Mainstream Gear: As Tears Go By (15) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
35

The film, therefore, is effectively the first of Wong’s mood pieces where character prevails over story. The mood casts the characters adrift in a sea of melancholia and spiritual ennui. The film takes place mostly at night. The landscape is one of vacant stairways, doorways and alleyways, where streetlights cast sharp shadows. So Lai-chen and the cop who befriends her wan- der, Antonioni-like, through this lonely landscape, their faces reflecting the lights of traffic passing by; an empty telephone kiosk shining like a beacon in the night assumes poignant significance (Lau waits for Lai-chen’s call by this kiosk). Time is spent waiting for lovers who never come. Yuddy’s rudderless existence shows itself by his favoured body postures: either reclining in chairs or on the bed. Even in the love scenes with So Lai-chen and Lulu, he is not shown actively making love, but always post-coitus, lying prone on the bed. But there is a violence that lurks behind this placid exterior: witness the scene where he attacks the gigolo for stealing Auntie’s earrings. [...]

—p.35 Wong’s Heartbreak Tango: Days of Being Wild (31) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The film, therefore, is effectively the first of Wong’s mood pieces where character prevails over story. The mood casts the characters adrift in a sea of melancholia and spiritual ennui. The film takes place mostly at night. The landscape is one of vacant stairways, doorways and alleyways, where streetlights cast sharp shadows. So Lai-chen and the cop who befriends her wan- der, Antonioni-like, through this lonely landscape, their faces reflecting the lights of traffic passing by; an empty telephone kiosk shining like a beacon in the night assumes poignant significance (Lau waits for Lai-chen’s call by this kiosk). Time is spent waiting for lovers who never come. Yuddy’s rudderless existence shows itself by his favoured body postures: either reclining in chairs or on the bed. Even in the love scenes with So Lai-chen and Lulu, he is not shown actively making love, but always post-coitus, lying prone on the bed. But there is a violence that lurks behind this placid exterior: witness the scene where he attacks the gigolo for stealing Auntie’s earrings. [...]

—p.35 Wong’s Heartbreak Tango: Days of Being Wild (31) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
36

The film portrays human life as one of limited possibilities. We can imagine So Lai-chen spending the rest of her days collecting Coke bottles and stamping admission tickets, and sympathetically wish better things for her. It is as if by giving up on her lover and the imagined possibilities of a richer inner life that he might provide, she has surrendered to her life of shrunken horizons and sunk back into its depths. Similarly imprisoned in a life of small possibilities is Lulu. In the scene where she confronts Lai-chen in the canteen, she grips the wire fence in anguish, and it is clear to the viewer that the two girls are in some sort of mental prison, as stifling and confining as the real one.

—p.36 Wong’s Heartbreak Tango: Days of Being Wild (31) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The film portrays human life as one of limited possibilities. We can imagine So Lai-chen spending the rest of her days collecting Coke bottles and stamping admission tickets, and sympathetically wish better things for her. It is as if by giving up on her lover and the imagined possibilities of a richer inner life that he might provide, she has surrendered to her life of shrunken horizons and sunk back into its depths. Similarly imprisoned in a life of small possibilities is Lulu. In the scene where she confronts Lai-chen in the canteen, she grips the wire fence in anguish, and it is clear to the viewer that the two girls are in some sort of mental prison, as stifling and confining as the real one.

—p.36 Wong’s Heartbreak Tango: Days of Being Wild (31) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
129

Yet, for all its elegance in re-creating the past and in capturing nostalgia, the idea of change over time is marked with an iron brand that makes the film somewhat cool and distant. The key in unlocking the secret that Tony Leung whispers into the hole in the wall lies, I believe, with the Maggie Cheung character. So Lai-chen is simply too uncertain of herself, overcome by anxiety and fear of gossip that she betrays not only Tony Leung’s Chow Mo-wan but herself. Fear of gossip is the overarching conceit that justifies the sense of repression hovering over the whole affair: it prevails not only in the home environment (necessitating her hiding inside Chow Mo-wan’s apartment when her landlady unexpectedly returns home, where she spends the whole night playing mahjong) but also in her workplace (her boss tries to keep his own affair with a mistress hidden, but Maggie is perceptive enough so that it becomes an open secret between them).

—p.129 Betrayed by Maggie Cheung: In the Mood for Love (114) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Yet, for all its elegance in re-creating the past and in capturing nostalgia, the idea of change over time is marked with an iron brand that makes the film somewhat cool and distant. The key in unlocking the secret that Tony Leung whispers into the hole in the wall lies, I believe, with the Maggie Cheung character. So Lai-chen is simply too uncertain of herself, overcome by anxiety and fear of gossip that she betrays not only Tony Leung’s Chow Mo-wan but herself. Fear of gossip is the overarching conceit that justifies the sense of repression hovering over the whole affair: it prevails not only in the home environment (necessitating her hiding inside Chow Mo-wan’s apartment when her landlady unexpectedly returns home, where she spends the whole night playing mahjong) but also in her workplace (her boss tries to keep his own affair with a mistress hidden, but Maggie is perceptive enough so that it becomes an open secret between them).

—p.129 Betrayed by Maggie Cheung: In the Mood for Love (114) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
139

[...] it is this faculty of keeping secrets which, the heroine believes, sets man apart from animals. The ‘secret’ of Chow’s affair becomes a sort of metaphysical back story in 2046 which is evoked by the hole; but the hole raises a persisting enigma. As Chow muses later in his own monologue: ‘I once fell in love with a woman and wondered whether she loved me or not.’ Tak himself voices this same line in his own affair with Faye Wong’s character.

—p.139 Wong’s Time Odyssey: 2046 (134) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] it is this faculty of keeping secrets which, the heroine believes, sets man apart from animals. The ‘secret’ of Chow’s affair becomes a sort of metaphysical back story in 2046 which is evoked by the hole; but the hole raises a persisting enigma. As Chow muses later in his own monologue: ‘I once fell in love with a woman and wondered whether she loved me or not.’ Tak himself voices this same line in his own affair with Faye Wong’s character.

—p.139 Wong’s Time Odyssey: 2046 (134) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago
161

[...] It is taken for granted that Wong’s films provide a substitute to the crass commercial fare of most of Hong Kong cinema and to the Hollywood blockbusters that dominate the cinemas of the world, but they also give us alternative ways of looking at art cinema. Wong’s cinema may be defined as asymmetric art in a way that makes it distinctive in both Eastern and Western contexts. It is much too romantic, much too emotional and ultimately much too Hong Kong to be located in the same topography of European-style high art cinema; and it is much too cool, much too genteel and ultimately much too other-worldly to be simply recognised as Hong Kong.

The best take on this paradox is to concede that Wong’s cinema belongs to Hong Kong and the world. Wong’s art can be said to be both local and global at the same time, his accomplishments all the more extraordinary because they are examples of contemporary localism that manifest the ‘global in the local’, to borrow the title of an essay by Arif Dirlik. In this essay, Dirlik is concerned with the spread of global capitalism and the means of resistance to it. To Dirlik, localism spells resistance, the outcome of a historical and political struggle by groups suppressed or marginalised by modernisation. He defines contemporary localism as ‘a postmodern consciousness, embedded in new forms of empowerment’.10 I believe Dirlik’s thesis affords us the most perceptive way of looking at Wong Karwai as a post-modern figure. In this view, Wong is really a film-maker marginalised by Hong Kong’s film capitalistic forces but who has so far managed to avoid being overpowered by them. His cinema embodies variations of genre and art cinema, making his films populist and cerebral at the same time.

—p.161 Mini-Projects and Conclusion (153) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] It is taken for granted that Wong’s films provide a substitute to the crass commercial fare of most of Hong Kong cinema and to the Hollywood blockbusters that dominate the cinemas of the world, but they also give us alternative ways of looking at art cinema. Wong’s cinema may be defined as asymmetric art in a way that makes it distinctive in both Eastern and Western contexts. It is much too romantic, much too emotional and ultimately much too Hong Kong to be located in the same topography of European-style high art cinema; and it is much too cool, much too genteel and ultimately much too other-worldly to be simply recognised as Hong Kong.

The best take on this paradox is to concede that Wong’s cinema belongs to Hong Kong and the world. Wong’s art can be said to be both local and global at the same time, his accomplishments all the more extraordinary because they are examples of contemporary localism that manifest the ‘global in the local’, to borrow the title of an essay by Arif Dirlik. In this essay, Dirlik is concerned with the spread of global capitalism and the means of resistance to it. To Dirlik, localism spells resistance, the outcome of a historical and political struggle by groups suppressed or marginalised by modernisation. He defines contemporary localism as ‘a postmodern consciousness, embedded in new forms of empowerment’.10 I believe Dirlik’s thesis affords us the most perceptive way of looking at Wong Karwai as a post-modern figure. In this view, Wong is really a film-maker marginalised by Hong Kong’s film capitalistic forces but who has so far managed to avoid being overpowered by them. His cinema embodies variations of genre and art cinema, making his films populist and cerebral at the same time.

—p.161 Mini-Projects and Conclusion (153) by Stephen Teo 5 months, 2 weeks ago