Category Archives: Wong Kar-Wai


Android-version of Wang Jing Wen
This a follow-up to my 2046 post. I re-watched the movie and have had more time to process some things. This post may contain spoilers, so if you want some spoiler-free thoughts, checkout the original post.

I wish I could say that the movie made more sense the second time around. Or, wait, no I don’t. The second time around didn’t quite make the movie crystal clear, but it did make me love the movie even more. 2046 is one of those “onion”-type pieces of literature, where there are layers upon layers to peel away — and each time you peel away a layer things are a bit different.

The first time I watched the movie, I admit that the descriptions I read about the movie almost had me more confused than the movie itself. After reading reviews on Netflix and IMDB and whatnot (Netflix: “…Through time travel and parallel worlds…”), I went into it thinking the film was about time travel and alternate universes and what not — well, the movie is strange and has sci-fi elements, but not like that. What made the story confusing was the fact that — and this is my tentative working theory: the movie itself was a story that was mentioned in the movie.

The crux of my understanding comes from a scene early in the film (during whatever year there were major riots in Hong Kong). Chow mentions that he is furiously writing a story called “2046” that is about a place called 2046 that everyone wants to go to and that the story is filled with sex and has a sci-fi plot to it that some people didn’t like where everyone is trying to get to a mysterious place called 2046 — isn’t that pretty much exactly what the film is? As Chow is giving a brief summary of his story, we see futuristic scenes that appear to be depicting the story he describes.

While those could be one way of understanding “2046,” I think the film 2046 is also another way. The movie itself is pretty sexual (take, for instance, the sex scenes between Chow and Bai Ling) and has a strange sci-fi element (the story “2047” that Chow writes for Wang Jen Wen). Furthermore, throughout the film 2046 everyone is trying to get to a 2046 one way or another — either the physical room (e.g. Chow wanting to live in room 2046) or some place where nothing changes (e.g. a stable relationship). So basically what I’m saying is that the interior story of “2046” parallels the larger film of 2046 — the film is itself a metastory.

Anyway, that may be too circular and strange, which is okay. I always make things more confusing that need be, but that’s how I am.

Another thing I was struck by the second time watching was the story of “2047” (see a theme here? me and metastories/intertextualism?). The actress who plays Wang Jen Wen (Faye Wong, who incidentally, I just learned, sang the “love theme song” for Final Fantasy 8 [I knew her name was familiar for some reason]) is phenomenal playing an android. She totally had the jerky movements down and the distant stares that, I would imagine, an android might have. Plus, in the scenes in which Tak asks her to leave with him, when she is pretending to either not listen to not respond to having a delayed response, the “I’m not here”-look she has is great.

Although the movie seems to suggest that Chow’s “true love” was Su Lizhen from In the Mood For Love, I would argue that his best relationship was with Bai Ling. Not only did they seem to have great sex, but they also had a similar history of pushing people away (or so I would assume since she was a prostitute). Also, they seemed to genuinely have fun together. They were playful and joked with each other. I think those types of relationships are probably healthier and have more of a chance to last than those really intense, “I’m so in love with you I could die”-type of relationships (and I think I have some experience here…).

I can’t really tell whether the film (“the film” being, mostly, WKW himself) thinks Chow should go with Bai Ling or move on from Su Lizhen (#1) or give Su Lizhen (#2) a chance or tell Wang Jen Wen that he loves her or what. I want to try to look to “2047” for some help, but I’m still unclear as to what exactly that story is trying to tell us.

Ultimately, despite the fact I’ve tried to do a “close(r) reading” of the film, I think that my first understanding of the overall theme remains the same (and the quote is so lovely it’s worth repeating):

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

For everything to align correctly so that two people are genuinely 100% in love with each other equally is extremely rare. One person loves the other more than the other (Bai Ling and Chow), one person loves another person but doesn’t know if the love is mutual (Tak and Wang Jen Wen), one person loves the other person at the wrong time (Wang Jen Wen and Tak), one person tries to love someone else who reminds them of someone they used to love (Chow and Su Lizhen #2)… or, who knows what other permutations can exist. I’m sure WKW can show us more.

And for the information-centric readers, here are some other things I’ve learned about the film since my first viewing:

  • 2047 is 50 years after Great Britain returned rule of Hong Kong to China. There was something said by some Chinese leaders about how Hong Kong will remain unchanged (i.e. capitalist) for 50 years. Not sure what this has to do with the movie, but it’s interesting and may give some perspective on the dates 2046 and 2047
  • The version of the film I watched (I’m guessing it’s some sort of “bootleg”) may be the “original cut” of the film that premiered at Cannes. After Cannes WKW decided to edit it a bit and add on five minutes in order to make the film less confusing.
  • It looks like 2046 will be showing at the Seattle Film Festival this year. Although SIFF doesn’t have any information yet, I can’t wait to see 2046 on the big screen.

Where does all of this leave us? I actually plan on going full-on nerd with this film and watching it a couple more times in order to create a timeline or something so that the chronology (there are lots of flashbacks-within-flashbacks going on) is more clear. I think it would make the film more enjoyable and meaningful if I knew exactly what was going on.


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.

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.