Friday, December 10, 2004

Wong Kar-Wai

I watched the movie Fallen Angels yesterday, a film by Wong Kar-Wai, a brilliant director, who did the movies Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Fallen Angels contains a story that was originally going to be the third part of Chungking Express, but instead was cut out, and put into its own movie, along with another story. The movie concerns a hitman and his partner, who is in love with him, even though she never says so, as well as a mute guy, who "re-opens" stores after they close for the night. It feels a lot like Chungking Express, in that there isn't an overarching plot, it's more just a bunch of events that happen, contributing to a feeling, rather than a story.

In this way, the film functions in a similar way to how David Lynch works. The emphasis isn't on constructing any sort of linear narrative, it's on moving through the film in a way that feels right, using techniques to convey character emotions. Wong Kar-Wai doesn't play with the narrative structure, like Lynch does in his third period, but he operates with a similar disregard for the strict logic of plot. Within the multiple stories in this film, and the stories in Chungking Express, there are a ton of emotional connections and parallel story elements. The expired pineapple reference is the most obvious, as well as the presence of the Midnight Express food stand from Chungking at the close of this film. Another major connecting element is Charlie's frequent references to a woman named Blondie, which recall the woman in the blond wig from Chungking Express, as well as the woman in the blond wig the hitman in this film takes up with. Thus, the situation of Charlie's jealousy of her blondie is paralleled with that of the partner's jealousy of the hitman's blond woman. Much like Magnolia, there a ton of parallels in the different stories.

Wong Kar-Wai makes great characters, but he's most notably a visual filmmaker. While I don't thlink everything in Fallen Angels hangs together, the movie is so beautiful that it doesn't really matter. Practically every shot seems perfectly composed, both from an aesthetic point of view and as a means of telling the story. The use of grainy black and white is striking, as is the incorporation of video. The video sequences provide some of the best emotional moments in the film. The use of distorted, wide-angle lenses makes for some phenomenal shots, notably at the end when the partner is sitting in a noodle bar, framedon the right, extremely close to the camera, as a brawl goes on in the distance on the left side of the frame. It's an amazing composition, and tells us everything we need to know about her.

The motorcyle sequences in the film were also brilliantly done. The sense of speed is perfectly conveyed, and Hong Kong looks very Blade Runneresque, a city of the future almost. The way the lights blur as the bike moves, but the characters stay perfectly still was genius. I also love the shooting in the bar scene, when the characters have a kind of blur about them, as if we're seeing them through a haze.

Wong's most successful movies are the ones where he has the most to work with visually. Days of Being Wild is a good movie, but it isn't great, because the settings just aren't as interesting, and the potential for interesting shots is not as large. The semi-sequel to Days, In the Mood for Love, is a much stronger movie, becuase Wong creates much more striking visuals. Clearly, he had massive growth as a filmmaker between Days and Chungking, and continued to grow, culminating in In the Mood for Love, which is absolutely gorgeous.

His next movie, 2046, is part sci-fi, part 60s, so I'm really looking forward to it. The stills I've seen have been extremely striking, with really interesting costumes and settings. In his best movies, Wong makes the setting into an extension of the characters, and this film seems to have the most interesting setting of any of his stuff yet.

Related Posts
2046: Screening with Wong Kar-Wai (6/16/2005)
Wong Kar-Wai Day (8/3/2005)

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