2046

Chow and Bai Ling in 2046
I hate to start ever review of a Wong Kar-Wai movie with something like, “Oh my god, this movie is amazing…” but it’s hard not to.

I watched his most recent (not counting the short “The Hand” from Eros) film, 2046 (Japanese promotional site, American promotional site), which could be described as a “loose” sequel to both In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild. I would probably say that it’s 90% sequel to In the Mood and 10% sequel to Days — Lulu/Mimi from Days of Being Wild shows up, and her lover York is refered to as the Chinese Filipino she was in love with, but that’s all. As for 2046‘s connection to In the Mood, Tony Leung reprises his role as Chow and his love interest from In the Mood, Su Lizhen, returns via flashbacks (I think directly from In the Mood, actually) as well as through a new character sharing her name.

I won’t really try to explain the plot, for two reasons: one, it would be a disservice to anyone who wants to go ahead and watch the movie since I want to give away a least as possible; and two, because the movie (like most WKW movies, for me, at least) is rather confusing. I will say that this one is even more confusing because some of the actors play different characters at different types of the film and there is a whole sci-fi and metastory thing going on.

So in lieu of giving away the story, I’ll comment on three aspects of the film that made me love it so much:

One: The sci-fi aspect of the story reminded me of another one of my favorite movies, Vanilla Sky. I love it when movies appear to be rather normal and straightforward for most of the film, and then at some point turn out to be totally different — and it’s even better when they turn out to be totally different in some strange dream/alternate universe/time travel/etc. method. The movie A.I. could be like that too… What I guess I like is when a movie contains an absurd element (cryogenic freezing in Vanilla Sky or an immortal android in A.I.), but at the same time tells an overly touching and emotional story about love or sadness or something. I think 2046 definitely has this aspect.

Two: Like the othe WKW movies, the cinematography is amazing. This one isn’t as shakey and “MTV-like” as Happy Together, but follows a style similar to In the Mood for Love. The camera work is often very slow and calculated. Rather than watching a movie, I often feel like I’m looking at beautifully composed still photographs. WKW also uses a lot of slow motion in his movies, but not in the cheesy violence-capturing or sappyness-extending methods that most Hollywood directors do. In addition to the way he works the camera, the colors are stunning. Most of the movie is very dark and shadowy (lots of dark greens, dark blues, dark reds), but a few times in the film (including the scenes that take place in “2046”), the style changes and really sets a different mood. (In addition to the scenes in “2046,” there is also a scene that shows some shots of a blue sky that is breathtaking — especially the way WKW captures the clouds: it looks like an ocean or something… truly amazing.) And finally, in what I could call another signature element of WKW movies, there is the mysterious and lovely touches of Latin/Spanish music. I’m still not sure what the signifigance of the musical choices indicate, but it works perfectly.

Three: In 2046 WKW really fleshes out the idea of chance encounters and falling in love with the right person at the wrong time, or the wrong person at the right time, or whatever. I won’t go into too many details about that now, but this quote summarizes it perfectly:

Love is all a matter of timing. It is no good meeting the right person… too soon or too late.

All things considered, 2046 may be the first Netflix movie that I watch more than once — that is, if I cannot find somewhere to order it from tonight (it still hasn’t been released to theatres, so any copy I can get probably isn’t the best quality). The movie was remarkable. I’m still not sure whether it beats Happy Together (which I love because of the gay themes and the fact I feel I can relate to the deteriorating and fucked up relationship somewhat), but it easily takes my number two spot.

Troy-Lust

As I’m reading Foucault’s The Use of Pleasure, which is ultimately his analysis of Greek sexuality, I must admit that I’m finding it difficult to really try to visualize (er, not like that, but I mean really try to picture the culture and practices in my head) the society that Foucault presents. The Greeks he is writing about lived and wrote nearly 1,500 years ago — that is a long time. Our current ideas of individuality and politics and whatnot are pretty radically different.

Take the idea of sexual relationships with boys. The way Foucault writes (and I don’t think Foucault is alone in presenting this idea), sex between older men and younger boys was quite normal. Foucault goes a long way to explain how these relationships caused great anxiety for the Greeks and that they weren’t “homosexual” as we understand the concept — it was a matter of desiring a thing of beauty (and young boys were considered beautiful) and a way of combining pleasure and knowledge so that the boys could grow up to be better leaders.

In addition to the sex with boys thing, Foucault also describes marriage relationships. According to Foucault (and, again, many other writers and historians), during the Greek times men in their 30s would marry wives in their late-teens and early-20s. The marriages had more to do with politics and the creation of a household unit than love or anything terribly romantic. The wives had to remain faithful to their husbands while the husbands could find pleasure elsewhere (though it was considered best if the men remained faithful as well — though, as Foucault mentions, it wasn’t even a question about whether women could stray or not — it was assumed and ingrained that they would only have sex with one man). Further, the wives had no autonomy in their life and were mainly around to clean the house and produce children.

So like I said, I was having a difficult time imagining how a society would look with those particular sexual and politics structures. Not that I haven’t seen old movies where women are the property of their husband and whatnot — that I could imagine. I do have a difficult time picturing a society where women had no subjectivity at all.

Orlando Bloom as Paris of Troy
Well, looking to the contemporary film Troy was no help, whatsoever.

I can understand that when someone makes a historical film, they want to make it a bit more contemporary so that the audience doesn’t feel so far removed that they are trying to understand the culture instead of the characters or storyline… but still, I find it a little distressing that the filmmakers failed to even try to problematize some of the more interesting relationships, such as whether Helen choose to was forced to return to Troy with Paris (in the film, it’s obvious that she choose to and that her and Paris have such a passionate relationship in which they are equals and he values her as a person and all that) or even the strange relationship between Hector and Paris.

I should add that I’m not terribly familiar with the story, but I remember that when we read it in high school it wasn’t as idealized as the film version.

And to be honest, I don’t know why I expected more from such a big budget film, but oh well. We all make mistakes. Does anyone have any recommendations of films that actually try to reflect classical times in a more realistic way?

Not as Wild

In my continuing love of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, I watched his 1991 breakthrough Days of Being Wild last night.

First, I will say that Wong Kar-Wai has risen to the status of “one of my favorite directors” faster than anyone else. I saw Happy Together and knew that he was awesome and that I needed to see and learn about as many as his films as possible. Following Happy Together I watched In the Mood for Love and his segment of the recent film Eros. So what I’m trying to preface this with is: 1. I love his films and think he’s an awesome director; 2. I only recently came into love with his films and haven’t seen all that many.

Also, I should add, that it’s been a pain-and-a-half getting this movie. When I first added it to my my Netflix queue, it came pretty quick (unlike Happy Together which had a “Very long wait” and 2046 which has had a “Very long wait” for over a month now). When I got the disc, however, it was cracked. Per the Netflix instructions, I filled out a form on the website and sent it back. I requested that they send a replacement copy. Lucky for me, that replacement came within three days… oh, but it was cracked, also. Oh, and I didn’t realize this until after I invited my friend Troy over to watch it with me. I felt stupid. Anyway, I returned the second broken disc and attached a Post-it that said “This one is broken.” The third time I got the DVD, it was in one piece. Yay.

York and Mimi/Lulu

On to the movie:

Like other Wong Kar-Wai movies, this movie, to some extent, revolves around the ideas of love and chance encounters. The main character, York, seduces and dumps two women: one is the quiet Su Lizhen and the other is the more spunky Lulu (a.k.a. Mimi). Eventually, York’s friend falls for Lulu and a random police office has a chance encounter with Su Lizhen. Neither of the women seem to be enough over York to acknowledge the men who may actually love them… and in the end, of course, it all goes to hell.

Similar to the way relationships develop in Happy Together, we don’t really see how “good” things are during these relationships — there is none of that cheesy spending-every-moment-together and having-super-happy-fun-carefree-times-together stuff that makes me ill in so many American romantic movies (e.g. The Notebook) — instead, we see things when they are bad. We see York reject Su Lizhen’s suggestion that they get married and live together kick Lulu/Mimi out of the apartment they share after she suggests that he might be “her boy.”

Despite these troubled relationships, however, Kar-Wai manages to capture love at it’s purest. I know I’m pretty cynical and jaded when it comes to love, but Kar-Wai seems to agree, somewhat, with my world view. Love is painful and hurtful and insane… it happens when you don’t anticipate it with people from which you don’t expect it.

Like I said, Days of Being Wild definitely touches on themes that I think become much more prominent in Kar-Wai’s later work (well, based on the recent stuff I’ve seen). The ideas of being trapped and isolated (by cramped, hot, sweaty apartments with fans) in life and relationships becomes a major theme in Happy Together, while the strange excitement of relationships that come from nowhere becomes the one of the underlying issues of In the Mood for Love.

Days of Being Wild also contains what I would call (and remember, this is only after seeing four of his movies) “trademarks” of Kar-Wai films: cramped apartment hallways, pouring rain, Latin/Spanish music, missed encounters, chance encounters, and shaky camera work.

So why do I hesitate to rave about this film as much as Happy Together or In the Mood for Love? The primary reason would be super high expectations. Had I seen this film before either of those, I would probably think more highly of it. Nonetheless, it’s exciting to see how far Kar-Wai has come and I genuinely do like it when directors find similar themes that they explore to death. Yeah, it may be a little repetitive and playing it safe, but it also gives one a chance to really explore something interesting and worthwhile. And I think Kar-Wai’s take on the themes of love and chance and fate make for fascinating film.

A Cine-ful city

Jessica Alba in 'Sin City'

So like every other hip and cool person, I saw Sin City and loved it. Ever since I saw Robert Rodriguez‘s Once Upon a Time in Mexico and the special feature where Rodriguez demonstrated how simple it was to do special effects, I figured he was an interesting and smart director.

More than anything, Sin City reminded me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — both were extremely stylized and had “ironic” acting (which is a term I made up to mean “forced, yet good; cheesy, yet self-aware; overdramatic, yet simple)… plus they both made extensive use of green screen technology and, of course, I loved them both.

I guess a lot has been said about the violence of the film, but honestly, I didn’t think it was too intense. The thing about Sin City is that since it is so stylized, the entire world and situation doesn’t feel real, and I think that made the violence feel less real and less “offensive” or whatever. I mean, the film wasn’t even in color and the blood was often white. Yes, I know I’m already desensitived toward violence, but I don’t think Sin City made things any worse for me.

I also loved the whole film-noir aspect of the film. Maybe it’s from all my psychoanalytic reading, but there is something about shady, tormented characters (i.e. every male character in the film) and sexy femme fatales (i.e. every female character in the film) that totally captures my attention.

If I had to say anything bad about the film (which I don’t, but I will anyway), I will admit that at times it did drag on a little for me. I’m not sure whether it was because there were so many stories or because the movie was in black and white, or what… nonetheless, it did get a bit boring at times. And really, I am almost embarassed to admit that I got bored because, if nothing else, I should’ve been enthralled by the stunning visuals or something. Oh well. It’s more a fault of mine than the movie, I think.