Beauty and loneliness

Hong Kong’s acclaimed auteur Wong Kar-Wai is a master of great technical virtuosity. A box-set of his films now available in India.

Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: Feb 8, 2009

An acclaimed scriptwriter who never sticks to the screenplay, a Hong Kong legend who finds it difficult to speak Cantonese and an avid film junkie who inspired that other celebrated film junkie, Quentin Tarantino—Wong Kar-Wai is a unique director.

In fact, Kar-Wai’s dazzling technique is the most seductive part of his film-making. His early successes are informed by the risk-taking jump cuts and lack of continuity which was the hallmark of much of ’60s French New Wave. Breathless imagery, hand-held shots and paper-thin plots high on nuance are his trademark. Peopled by misfits, his films are never short on originality.

In the Mood for Love
The first film in the box set (which covers his Hong Kong years from 1994 to 2000) is the massively influential Chung King Express. Famously moving Tarantino to shed tears of joy, the film is a whirlwind study of two men with their own different stories. He Qiwu and Cop 663 are two policemen who roam the city going about their business, lonely and disconnected. He Qiwu gets involved with a mysterious woman in a blonde wig who, he knows, is trouble. An infatuated waitress enters the life—and apartment—of the other man, turning his life upside down. A film about disconnect and ennui, the fate of the two couples is left unresolved.

Alienation is a theme Kar-Wai re-visits in Fallen Angels, again a story about two couples told in a giddy montage of shots. But the best film in this set is In The Mood For Love. A lush, quiet film set in early 1960s Hong Kong, it tells the story of two neighbours in an apartment building, who fall hopelessly in love but are unwilling to commit adultery with their respective spouses. Beautifully constructed and shot, Kar-Wai keeps up the sexual tension between the protagonists right till the end without providing any release.

The box set does not extend to Kar-Wai’s latest work, which is available elsewhere. Following his debut English feature My Blueberry Nights, he is currently working on his next English film The Lady From Shanghai, due out in 2010.

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