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Cinematic Beginnings: A look at Wong Kar-wai’s

1. “Cinematic

background and early work as a

Beginnings: A look at


Wong Kar-wai’s background and early work as a director” Pages 2-3 2. Filmography Page 3 3. “Analysis of In the Mood for Love” Pages 4-6 4. “Hong Kong Second Wave Cinema : A brief history of Hong Kong cinema from the 1980s onward” Pages 6-7 5. “A Sliced Plot Summary of Chungking Express” Pages 7-8

Wong Kar-wai was born in Shanghai on July 17, 1958, but moved to Hong Kong at age five leaving behind his brothers and sister in China (cinemaaxis 2013). His father worked as both a sailor and nightclub manager and his mother was a housewife (Bear 2001). Having difficulty with adjusting to a new country and a new language, Wong often found comfort in movies. While his father was away his mother would often take him to the theater or to concerts, fostering in him a love of art (Bear 2001). Through his mother he was exposed to a wide variety of films ranging from local Hong Kong made movies to popular French New Wave films of the sixties (cinemaaxis 2013). Wong originally went to school for graphic design, but quickly found himself becoming involved with film (Rayns 2000). For two years, he worked as a production assistant on serial dramas for the television station TVB (Rayns, 2000). Then in 1982, he began to explore the film industry by writing and contributing ideas for the script department of Cinema City (Rayns, 2000). This allowed him to explore more serious script writing by creating scripts for a gangster movie trilogy created by his friend, director Patrick Tam (Rayns, 2000). The first of this series would later inspire As Tears Go By, Wong’s own directorial debut (Rayns, 2000). This film would be the only film Wong would create a script for. As he directed subsequent films, Wong would forgo writing a script in advance of shooting (Rayns, 2000). Instead he would write detailed outlines of projects, while still retaining the option to be flexible during production when the bulk of good ideas and inspiration would come to him (Rayns, 2000). Jo Law describes this process further in “Wong Kar-wai’s Cinema” by stating, “The careful structure of Wong's scripts acts as scaffolding within which he builds the film's narrative and character development….Instead of illustrating a determinate script, the filming and editing are allowed to generate new narrative possibilities” (Law 2001). As Tears Go By was an energetic first film with solid performances that could very possibly serve as homage to Scorsese’s Mean Streets, but it was found to be too violent when viewed by officials at the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes (Rayns, 2000). Despite this, the film won The Hong Kong Film Award for best picture (Law 2001). It also became a hit with audiences and already began to show elements of Wong Kar Wai’s future trademarks, most notably the very purposeful (continued on pg. 3)



Year 1988 1990 1994


expressionistic color pallet (Rayns, 2000). For his second feature, Days of Being Wild /A Fei Zhengzhuan, Wong would make efforts to erase all the tendencies he has picked up from working in television and would embark on a more unconventional filmmaking process by neglecting to write a script and turning away from genrefilmmaking (Rayns, 2000). The film takes place in 1960s era Hong Kong and centers around a teen who has just learned that from the woman who raised him, a retired sex worker, that she is not his real mother. The name A Fei Zhengzhuan was also given to the Hong Kong and Taiwian release of the film Rebel Without A Cause, drawing parallels between the chaotic nature of youth in both films (Rayns, 2000). Tony Rayns also hints at an autobiographical streak within the film in his article “Charisma Express”, by writing, “Like Wong and William Chang (a close collaborator who works as designer/editor on Wong’s films) themselves, the character is a Shanghainese boy brought up in Cantonese Hong Kong; as such he must represent the dislocation they felt as kids in the 60s” (Rayns, 2000). Law explains this dislocation by delving into the historical background of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was changed from a country mainly dependent upon fishing and trading to “centre for economic and cultural exchange” during its rule by Britain that lasted a century and a half (Law, 2001). After several wars (most notably the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and the Vietnam War) the country experience a constant input of refugees displaced by war and a constant FILMOGRAPHY output of residents (Law, Title Chinese title 2001). This resulted in a country marked by discontinuity and regarded as an “airport city” where people are constantly coming or going but never As Tears Go By 旺角卡門 staying (Law 2001). She writes “unlike the ideal space of an airport, where the `citizens' all have a destination, in an actual city these discontinuities Days of Being Wild 阿飛正傳 produce disorientating social and cultural spaces that profoundly affect the inhabitants' experiences” (Law 2001). The film served to set up many Chungking Express 重慶森林 of Wong Kar-wai’s essential movie ingredients: vibrant visuals by cinematographer and longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle, eclectic Ashes of Time 東邪西毒 musical tracks echoing old Hong Kong, rereadings of pop culture, and explorations of isolation or existentialism by characters (also often marked Fallen Angels 墮落天使 by Wong’s repeated use of clock imagery) (Rayns, 2000).


Happy Together



In the Mood for Love






My Blueberry Nights



The Grandmaster




(to be released)

Works Cited "The Auteurs: Wong Kar-Wai." Cinema Axis. N.p., 5 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <>. Béar, Liza. "Wong Kar-Wai." Bomb 75 (2001): 48-52. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 14 Nov. 2014. Law, Jo. "Wong Kar-Wai's Cinema." Metro 126 (2001): 92. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. Rayns, Tony. "Charisma Express." Sight & Sound 1990-2000 10.1


MEG BERTRAM ] (2000): 34-36. EBSCO Host. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Analysis of In the Mood for Love: Widely considered his masterpiece, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love (named after a Bryan Ferry song of the same title) is a film from 2000 that “Thwarted love and the depicts life in 1960s Hong flawed city become parallel Kong. Within a small Shanghainese community, states of living and being, the viewer introduced to an their essential equivalence unconventional love story drawn out by the mediating through the lives of two powers of nostalgia, which characters; Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow (Hillenbrand looks back and finds in the 2010). The audience meets fabric of the city the imprints, these two characters as scars, and traces of the they are both new to the feelings from that time. In this same tenement block and way, nostalgia also becomes a are both renting rooms with their spouses. Through love affair with the city itself, noticing several peculiarities and with the city precisely as in the behaviors of their a site of pleasure and pain.” spouses, the two deduce “Nostalgia, Place, and Making that their partners are having an affair with each Peace with Modernity in East other. They begin to seek Asia” by Margaret solace and friendship in Hillenbrand each other, though their friendship never reaches anything physical. In this article I will discuss how Wong Kar-wai represents his home country in In the Mood for Love, how cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s camera work helps to emphasize themes within the film, and how music becomes a central device in setting emotional tone. Hong Kong is illustrated through several meticulously detailed backdrops housing always impeccably dressed figures – the newspaper office where Mr. Chow works, the shipping company where Mrs. Chan works, lush restaurant interiors where our protagonists drink from beautiful green teacups, small rooms filled with bustling Shanghainese women in the midst of cooking together or shuffling mahjong tiles, and bedrooms with beautiful linens and floral wallpaper (Hillenband 2010). Wong Kar-wai’s nostalgia for the Hong Kong in which he grew up is evident in every small and delicate detail and Christopher Doyle’s cinematography compliments this beautifully with slow moving camera shots that almost seem to savor its surroundings. The camera also helps to establish the “In contrast to the social pressures that force “proper” cramped spaces in which the characters live behavior in classic melodrama, the greatest hindrance for (Hillenbrand 2010). At times it almost appears to be immobile as it attempts to follow bodies down the couple here is their warped sense of pride, a desire not narrow staircases to noodle stands or into small to sink to the level of their adulterous significant others. Their connecting offices (Hillenbrand 2010). In many shots, the view is only partially glimpsed through insular barriers prevent responsibility for a failed tryst to be partitioned walls, obstructing door frames, through externalized, and Wong’s cramped frames highlight that bannisters or windows, and many times the viewer is only allowed a sliver of the main subject matter the only distance between characters is the ones they (Hillenbrand 2010). This emphasizes the nostalgia of make for themselves.”- Ranked: Wong Kar-Wai Films from the film by reminding the viewer that the past can only be seen in fragments and that often our Worst to Best by Jake Cole feelings of nostalgia come (continued on pg. 5)


MEG BERTRAM ] from a longing for something that remains hidden or obstructed in our memory (Hillenbrand 2010). The camera also makes a point of linking physical imperfects with the emotional states of the characters (Hillenbrand 2010). Hillenbrand notes in her article, “The sheer repetitive deliberateness with which the camera links the battered wall, with its fuse box and blistered paint to Mrs Chan’s febrile, lovelorn state (capturing her fingers as they slide along its grubby surface, framing her profile against the fusebox, panning over the paintwork at her eye level) allows Wong to make a strong visual statement about the city, nostalgia, and the nature of place” (Hillenbrand 2010). Wong Kar-wai also uses music to transport his audience back in time. He notes in an interview with Liza Bear that, “the Latin music in the film, actually, was very popular in Hong Kong because the music scene at that time was mainly from the Philippines and all the nightclubs had Filipino musicians, so they got Spanish influences there. Latin American music was very popular in the restaurants at that time, that’s why I put it in the film. And I especially like Nat King Cole because he’s my mother’s favorite singer” (Bear 2001). Wong’s use of music transcends its usual function as an accompaniment to the visual image (Carvalho, Moreira 2008). Instead his use of music creates a sense of temporality, is used to subject the visual image to a certain rhythm, and often gives the viewer a better cultural understanding of the film’s setting by including popular pop music of the time (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). The main track that plays over and over in In the Mood for Love is entitled 'Yumeji's Theme' by composer Shigeru Umebayash (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). This theme successfully establishes the emotional tone of the film by repeating itself whenever the two characters come together and whenever they retreat from each other (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). The theme also plays when it is evident that a character is thinking about the other, the melancholy tone of the waltz emphasizes the emotional tension between them (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). This theme plays a total of eight times and each time the speed at which images are recorded are slowed down, matching the tempo and rhythm of the song (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). The first time this track is played, is during a scene in which the characters pass by each other on the stairs that lead to the noodle stall from which they both get their supper every night. Though the characters are going opposite directions, and though they exchange not a single glance at the other, the slow motion of their bodies passing each other in time to the music is filled with tension solely because of the sentimental nature of the music (Cavalho, Moreira 2008). In conclusion, In the Mood for Love is considered by many to be Wong Kar-wai’s most masterful film. Though there are several reasons for this, most (continued on pg. 6)


MEG BERTRAM ] notably among them are the successful representation of 1960s Hong Kong, the cramped camera movements that beautifully suited the plot of the film, and the music which helped to engage viewers in the feeling of nostalgia evident throughout the film. All of these factors help to make In the Mood for Love not only one of the most unique and unconventional love stories of Hong Kong cinema, but of global cinema as well. Works Cited Béar, Liza. "Wong Kar-Wai." Bomb 75 (2001): 48-52. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 15 Nov. 2014. Hillenbrand, Margaret. "Nostalgia, Place, And Making Peace With Modernity In East Asia." Postcolonial Studies 13.4 (2010): 383-401. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. Macedo de Carvalho, Ludmila Moreira. "Memories Of Sound And Light: Musical Discourse In The Films Of Wong Kar-Wai." Journal Of Chinese Cinemas 2.3 (2008): 197-210. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

Hong Kong Second Wave Cinema: A brief history of Hong Kong cinema from the 1980’s onward Hong Kong Second Wave is a phrase used to define an era of Hong Kong filmmaking from 1980 to the 1990s (Fu, Desser 2002). In the early 1980’s Hong Kong’s mainstream films were mainly composed of Kung Fu actions thrillers and comedies and with the success of these films in not only domestic spheres but in other Eastern Asian countries as well, Hong Kong experienced a peak in productivity and competitiveness (Teo 1997). At the same time, a new wave was developing marked by films that were more artistic than thrilling (Teo 1997). This new wave can also be seen as a continuation of the previous because many new wave directors were working as assistants to notable first wave directors, for instance Wong Kar-wai’s work relationship with director Patrick Tam (Wright 2002). Among the filmmakers contributing to the second wave were, Wong Kar-wai of course, Clara Law, Stanley Kwan, Eddie Fong, Fruit Chan, Mabel Cheung, and many others (Teo 1997). At the same time important things were happening for Hong Kong as a country. In 1984, the Sino-British Agreement gave control of Hong Kong to China and this was reflected in the films produced during this time (Teo 1997). Inhabitants of Hong Kong experienced feelings of skepticism because, according to Stephen Teo’s book Hong Kong Cinema, “the mechanics of the transition proved too complicated and unwieldy” (Teo 1997). In film this translated to themes of introspection and thusly Hong Kong films seemed to gain a new level of emotional maturity (Teo 1997). This can be seen in Wong’s film as characters spend much time speaking in voice over monologues about memories and tragedies and lost time. The freestyle approach of Wong’s filmmaking is one that completely differed from the norm of Hong Kong filmmaking at the time – there is nothing conventional or commercially marketable, yet his ability to garner respect as an artist in the industry is shown in his star studded casts and his large budgets films (Teo 1997). His films and other films of Second Wave Hong Kong have helped to create an identity specific to Hong Kong, a country (continued on pg. 7)


MEG BERTRAM ] usually linked to its closeness with China and to the west as a British colony (Wright 2002). Elizabeth Wright notes in her article Wong Kar-wai that, “Notions of identity and the ever-present fusion between East and West find context in the themes of love, loneliness and alienation that pervade his protagonists. Tension between the past and present is linked to memory, desire, time, space and environment” (Wright 2002). For these reasons, Wong Kar-wai is one of the most important filmmakers working today and contributing to the Hong Kong Second Wave of cinema. Works Cited Fu, Poshek, and David Desser. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print. Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. London: BFI, 1997. Print. Wright, Elizabeth. "Wong Kar-wai." Senses of Cinema. Film Victoria Australia, May 2002. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <>.

A Sliced Plot Summary of Chungking Express Wong Kar- wai’s 1994 film, Chungking Express, consist of two stories that intermingle in a sliced plot (Bordwell 2000). The first story centers on a police officer known only as Officer 223. It was been a month since his girlfriend broke up with him and he had previously decided to wait out this month before moving on to make sure that she had really left him for good. (Bordwell 2000). In the film he explains, ‘We split up on April Fool's Day. So I decided to let the joke run for a month. Every day I buy a can of pineapple with a sell-by date of May 1. May loves pineapple, and May 1 is my birthday. If May hasn't changed her mind by the time I've bought thirty cans, then our love will also expire” (Wong 1994). He eats every single can before the midnight of the expiration dates (Camp 2010). He notes in the film during another one of this over voice monologues, “If memories could be canned, would they also have expiration dates? If so, I hope they last for centuries” (Bordwell 2000). At the same time, a woman in a blonde wig, trench coat, and sunglasses has just ran away from an underground drug smuggling operation that went awry as her team has left with her and took her drugs (Camp 2010). Officer 223, sees her at a bar, and seeking love he strikes up a conversation with the mysterious woman. The two have drinks together and talk ambiguously about their lives. Later, the two of them go to a hotel room, though nothing happens between them as the exhausted and unnamed woman falls asleep (Bordwell 2000). She leaves the next morning to apprehend the man who set her up (Bordwell 2000). The officer goes jogging the day of his birthday and later receives a happy birthday message from the mysterious woman on his pager. It is at this point in the plot that he collides into another character from the second story line, Faye. The second story with another cop, Officer 663, who is also dealing with a love gone stale. He is ordering two chef salads for them at a snack counter called Midnight Express when he meets another central character, Faye. She prepares his order while listening and dancing to “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and The Papas playing loudly over the (continued on pg. 8)



 When Hong Kong cinema finally reached Western audiences in the late eighties, its style was quickly and correctly categorized as a strictly commercial approach to filmmaking. Wong Kar Wai’s arrival changed everything. With the same visual tools that his peers were using to make action blockbusters, Wong started making very personal and extremely poetic films, disregarding the rules of narrative storytelling and challenging traditional Chinese mores. Few of his contemporaries have dared tackle homosexuality as directly as he did in Happy Together. From the dizzying Chungking Express to the hypnotizing In the Mood for Love, Wong’s work is incredibly modern and particularly powerful. —Laurent Tirard 

stereo. Later, the girlfriend who works as a flight attendant leaves a note for him at the snack counter which tells the cop that their relationship is over (Bordwell 2000). This letter also includes her keys to his apartment (Camp 2010). Instead of accepting the letter, the cop knowingly tells Faye to hold onto it for him, therefore refusing to accept the pain of his failed relationship (Camp 2010). Faye then uses these keys to break into the cop’s apartment multiple times throughout the film (Bordwell 2000). She secretly spruces up his apartment by cleaning up and restocking items like canned food, towels, clothing, etc. (Bordwell 2000). Near the end of the film the officer, becoming more and more cheerful despite his breakup, realizes these changes to his apartment (Bordwell 2000). He notices new bedding, sandals, a mug for his toothbrush, and a picture of Faye stuck to his mirror (Bordwell 2000). When he finally catches her in the act, he realizes that in her dedication to him there may be the possibility for new love and he decides to accept his change by asking her on a date (Bordwell 2000). But instead of meeting Officer 663, Faye makes a last second decision to see her beloved California. She leaves him a boarding pass at the snack counter written on a paper napkin, but it later gets wrinkled and illegible from rain (Bordwell 2000). After some time has passed, Faye returns to Hong Kong newly employed as a flight attendant and she discovers that Officer 663 has in turn bought the Midnight Express snack counter in order to turn it into a restaurant. The movie ends with Faye writing him a new boarding pass. “Where do you want to go?” she asks (Wong 1994). “Wherever you want to take me,” he replies Wong 1994). As Wong Kar-wai expertly spins of web of intersecting lives, places, emotions, and themes, he tells the stories of four characters inhabiting urban Hong Kong. Each individual seems to be struggling in their own right, with love and in general, the inconvenient timing of life. Depicted in the most vivid colors and set to the most confectionary and retro musical selections, the film tells a tale of four women who help two police officers to accept changes and new love. It is at the same time, a dazzlingly experimental film and yet one that proves to be endlessly enjoyable in its light heartedness. Works Cited Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Print. Kar-wai, Wong. "Chung King Express (Chung Hing Sam Lam) (1994) Movie Script | SS." Springfield! Springfield! N.p., 1994. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. < hp?movie=chung-king-express-chung-hing-sam-lam>. Van Camp, Jeffrey. "Piecing Together Chungking Express – Cinema Soldier - Storming the Silver Screen!" Piecing Together Chungking Express. Cinema Soldier, 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2014. < cing-together-chungking-express.html>.


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