.contact us |.about us
News > Lifestyle News ...
Wong Kar-wai: His movies, his soundtracks and more
( 2003-12-23 10:09) (Cityweekend.com)

Happy Together

3.5 stars

Highly academic, and extremely well researched, James Tambling's book takes a detailed look at Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together. As one of the series on New Hong Kong Cinema published by the Hong Kong University Press, Tambling's analysis is sure to be a required text for film and gender studies students in the SAR and beyond.

The series attempts to explore "how films both reflect and inflect culture" (preface), and how Wong's acclaimed films impact Chinese culture.
Tambling begins with an analysis of Happy Together as allegory, using the relationship between the men as a reference to the relationship between the Chinese mainland and the SAR. Using reference to literary critic Frederic Jameson, he finds that "the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public Third World culture and society". Other theorists, including Spivak and Ahmad, are invoked to shore up Tambling's thesis, although there is an assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basics of the field of literary study. He asserts that there is a relationship between sexuality and the public, political world.

With the theory out of the way, more common questions are also addressed, including questioning its setting in Buenos Aires rather than Hong Kong. Tambling posits that the film could be regarded as "a tale of two cities, putting them together and almost asking them if they could be happy together". This chapter also brings together Taiwan's settlement by the Portuguese (the film ends in Taiwan) with Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, both of which end in areas suffering from neo-colonialism.

Contexts and themes including the film imagery (the meanings behind the tango dance, yellow wallpaper, and more), homosexuality, and whether the film is "affirmative about homosexuality by actually representing it, not bothering to discuss it... (and) treating it as no different from any other sexual partnership". There is also an analysis of nostalgia and melancholy in the film, followed by an epilogue that addresses Happy Together in the context of the making of Wong's In the Mood for Love.

Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together will certainly be reserved for academic shelves, but it should also be on the must-read list of anyone who has watched the film and felt there was more to it than simple viewing pleasure. Laura Hutchison

Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together, by Jeremy Tambling, pub Hong Kong University Press, 2003, 122pp, Paperback

Available online from the usual outlets

Ashes of Time has risen to cult status, meriting it the pleasure of being one of the films addressed in the Hong Kong University Press' New Hong Kong Cinema series

Ashes of Time

3 stars

Initially not a success, Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time has risen over the past nine years to almost cult status. In this analysis by Wimal Dissanayake, the emphasis lies on the premise that Ashes marks "an important point in the growth of Hong Kong cinema" within the context of the creativity of Wong Kar-wai in filmmaking.
Bearing this in mind, the chapter dedicated to the acclaimed director (Chapter 2) is useful and comprehensive, with details of his film history as well as inclusion of box offices collections of Hong Kong films.

In comparison with Tambling's analysis of Happy Together, Dissanayake's is far less verbose, covering basics like storyline and character analyses. Don't be fooled, though: this is as much an academic tome as the former, and chapters on characters nonetheless tackle the issue of identity and how identities weave around each other and "seem to deconstruct identity only to bring out its further complexities".

Dissanayake goes on to discuss narrative structure, style, and martial arts (focusing on the poetics of the marital arts film genre and whether or not it can fall into the category of wuxia).

The theory hits on discussion of time, fragmentation, and melancholia in the film, and the complexities and convolutions of philosophical ramifications of its use. And although very interesting, the reader is a bit thrown aback, with Dissanayake's statement from the onset being that the film should be analyzed in the context of Hong Kong cinema, as opposed to being analyzed as allegory or as text for higher academic study.

The reader is brought back into the original hypothesis in Chapter 11, discussing responses to the film, complete with a timeline and with published examples of criticisms, comments, and analysis on Ashes. The conclusion reiterates the original motive of analyzing the film's significance to the evolution of Hong Kong cinema, but also makes clear the "intention to focus on two important dimensions of the film: its intertextuality and its social relevance". A little late in the day, Ashes is also related to the mood of the 1990s in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the reader is left having to turn back to sections of the book to reconfirm this point instead of having had it introduced early on. Laura Hutchison

Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time, by Wimal Dissanayake with Dorothy Wong, pub Hong Kong University Press, 2003, 175pp, Paperback
Available online from the usual outlets

In the Mood for Love: The Soundtrack

Huayang Nianhua


One of Wong Kar-wai's most popular films is also one of the most treasured soundtracks among many a CD collection. A melancholy fusion of different genres - jazz, classical, and opera - all are personal favorites of the director and his mother.

The first track on the disc Yumeji's Theme is a typical Shanghai 30s ballad featuring strings and a solo violin. This tune is synonymous with the film and recurs on countless occasions as the theme for the lovely qipao clad, Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung).

All the Chinese opera (Beijing opera, Zhejiang opera, Jiang Su opera) are tracks recorded from the original vinyl records. The Beijing opera Si Lang Tan Mu and Sang Yuan Ji Zi are the representative works by famous Chinese opera artist Tan Xinpei (1874-1917) that prevailed in the 1930s. The Zhejiang opera Hong Niang Hui Zhang Sheng and Qing Tan's love story is closely mimicked by Zhou Muyun (Tony Leung) and Su Lizhen in In the Mood.

Wong Kar-wai selects three songs by singer Nat King Cole, whose works also can be heard in the higher echelons of old Shanghai nightlife haunts. Those three songs are Aquellos Ojos Verdes, Te Quiero Dijiste and Quizas Quizas Quizas, full of Nat King Cole's typical jazz and Latin style, invoking visions of colorful ballrooms, and dazzling Shanghai nights.

No soundtrack of a film set in Shanghai 1930s would be complete without the inclusion of Zhou Xuan's "Golden Voice". Her famous rendition of Hua Yang Nian Hua is in fact what the film was named after. The soundtrack features her original recording of the song, eerie and vacant.

The other eight tracks are commissioned works by Michael Galasso most of which feature strings - mainly cellos and violins.

This CD is a must-have for any China resident, and, as Christmas approaches, a great one for giving.

As Tears Go By (Wang Jiao Ka Men)

4 stars

Taking HK's overheating gangster flick scene circa 1987 and turning it into a certified tearjerker was quite a feat. Wong Kar-wai's ability in achieving just that worked wonders towards cementing long lasting foundations for his tumultuous career.

Released in early 1988, the spectacularly enthralling love drama established not only director Wong's reputation, but also his cast of unique regulars, all later superstars in their own right. Andy Lau did Wah, a wise guy desperately in love with cousin Carmen, a cute, longhaired Maggie Cheung fresh from her Police Academy successes and young enough to maintain some serious naivet¨¦. Carmen's a regular village girl, her normative lifestyle and demure nature compelling Wah into reconsidering his own questionable path.

Adorned with cool Jacky Cheung as Andy's self-destructive side kick Fly, As Tears Go By managed to integrate classy intelligentia with hearty emotion, remaining a must see to this day.

Starring: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Ronald Wong

1988, Cantonese, 94 minutes

Days of Being Wild (A Fei Zheng Zhuan)

3 stars

Due more to bad translation work than actual script writing issues, many of those anticipating Wong Kar-wai's sophomore outing were disappointed upon learning it outright lacked anything remotely wild start to finish. Basically, it came to be a revisiting of three staples: the seedy nightlife, quality thespians and versatile storytelling. For this project, Wong's cast expanded to include Leslie Cheung and Carina Lau, giving rising star Leslie a shot at the lead as 1960's playboy Yuddy, involved with two opposing women and repulsed to some extent by both. Good girl Su Lizhen (a once again sweetened Maggie) faces nocturnal prowler Feng Ying (Carina Lau) in a joust to decide which will make off with Yuddy's promise of loving stability.

Little do they suspect he himself feels lost, oblivious of his father's identity and keen on obtaining true male bonding, something reckless buddy Zeb (Jacky Cheung) simply can't provide. Even an introspective cop-turned-traveler (Andy Lau) can't stop Yuddy from colliding with destiny to tragic results. There was also a brief cameo by then-prospective regular Tony Leung.

While less thoughtful than As Tears Go By and somewhat of a plod fest at times, this film nonetheless went towards consolidating the esteemed moviemaker's mesmerizing style.

Starring: Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung

1990, Cantonese, 94 minutes

Chungking Express (Chongqing Sen Lin)

3.5 stars

Arguably one of the greatest films to emerge during the early 90s, it too fell prey to weird transliteration choices, oddly forgoing its true title, Chongqing Forest, in favor of obvious fluffing up. Whatever your thoughts on that, you won't quickly gloss over Wong Kar-wai's vivacious amalgamation of quirky characters, frenzied camera work and hypnotic pacing.

Certainly, it was more style than content but at least unashamedly so, unlike other products of the same era with their presently extinct cooler-than-y'all attitude.
Two cops, numbers 223 and 663 (Takeshi Kanehiro and Tony Leung respectively) obsess over lost love interests among a perpetually dark, Tower of Babel-like version of HK veering pleasantly close to bonafide science fiction. The first soon falls for a wig-wearing smuggler and master crook (screen empress Brigitte Lin), the latter acquiring bliss with timid restaurant employee Faye (Wong Faye).

Pioneering techniques later used around the world, Chungking Express challenges viewers' attention spans and willingness to stay focused with its loosely tied plot and ecstatic cinematography. With several new stars added to his roster and such an acclaimed piece of work under his belt, Wong Kar-wai's credibility was affirmed for years to come.

Starring Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Wong Fei

1994, Cantonese/Various, 97 minutes

Fallen Angels (Duo La Tian Shi)

3 stars

Plenty reasons exist to claim Chungking Express pseudo-sequel status for this one, but despite more of the same nightly cavorting, wacky personas and blurred action segments it doesn't quite capture the impetus so exquisitely evident in its predecessor.

Continuing Wong Kar-wai's effort to diversify his talent stock, the film pits Leon Lai (as hit man Johnny) against a mysterious underworld filled to bursting with treacherous clients and ambushes just waiting to happen. Two additional protagonists parlay about, one being Johnny's caretaker and secret admirer (super-sexy Michele Reis looking veritably astonishing in those tiny minis).

Although her devotion to the assassin knows no boundaries, she can't bring herself to even confess these feelings, doomed to remain heartbroken. Comic relief, if you can call it that, comes via Takeshi Kaneshiro's rendition of eccentric deaf-mute He Zhiwu, another lost soul wondering HK's lonely streets while tormenting residents with harmless pranks as the ultimate time killer. Karen Mok fans will relish her as a multifaceted bimbo acting out several characters to acceptable effect.

Potent and capable, Fallen Angels' moderately gripping story and smoky atmosphere serve as valid strong points even if it didn't rise to previous WONG KAR-WAI standards. At any rate, it was a good stopgap on the way to the director's scandalous Happy Together and international smash hit In the Mood For Love.

Starring Leon Lai, Michele Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Karen Mok

1995, Cantonese/Various, 90 minutes

Coming Attraction: 2046


Lots of controversy around this overdue milestone, promising to be Wong Kar-wai's first full-blooded science fiction masterpiece and possibly Asia's greatest contribution to the genre, with roots in landmarks such as Blade Runner, Barton Fink and I, Robot.

Why controversy?  Well, one version has it the movie will revolve around a writer (Tony Leung) meeting a washed up hooker (Maggie Cheung, staying at room 2046) and proceeding to concoct endless tales of artificial intelligence and love.

Others claim the plot resides in a despotic HK around the year 2046, where citizens all have numbers instead of names, possibly since they've been replaced by droids.
Regardless, a lot rides on 2046 and Wong Kar-wai's success in getting it done before January 1, 2046 actually passes by.

Additional confirmed cast members include Wang Fei, Carina Lau, Beijing's Zhang Ziyi, her former Crouching Tiger screen mate Chang Chen and Kimura Takuya.
Keep all applicable digits crossed.

  Today's Top News   Top Lifestyle News
+Human rights, private property fixed as pillars
( 2003-12-23)
+Gang leader executed after retrial
( 2003-12-23)
+Concerns spark 9 million jobs scheme
( 2003-12-23)
+China issues white paper on mineral resources policy
( 2003-12-23)
+Private players to be allowed in vaccine sector
( 2003-12-23)
+Invention of pottery linked to snail eating in south China
( 2003-12-23)
+Tianjin zoo breeds hippos for nationwide zoos
( 2003-12-23)
+China surrounds world's second largest desert to curb expansion
( 2003-12-23)
+It's a boy for Russell Crowe and wife
( 2003-12-23)
+German neo-Nazi rock group charged
( 2003-12-23)
  Go to Another Section  
  Article Tools  
        .contact us |.about us
  Copyright By chinadaily.com.cn. All rights reserved