Wong Kar-Wai


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Wong Kar-wai (China, 1958)

Abandoning the linear narrative structure, A Fei Jingjyuhn/ Days of Being Wild (1991), his first collaboration with Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, is a rambling one-man odyssey whose characters are all obsessed with love or the negation of love in all its forms, whether erotic, filial or friendly. It hints an entire nation that searches for love while trying not to fall in love. Sex is a curse that makes everybody unhappy. There are clocks everywhere (almost a fetishistic obsession with time keeping), and the story takes place in desolate environments: people don't change, the landscape does not change, time keeps flowing senselessly. The style oscillates from film noir to soap opera, from documentary to expressionist. Several narrating voices pop up during the film, usually just to represent someone's stream of consciousness. Doyle's cinematography would define Hong Kong cinema for an entire generation.

The first scene shows a jungle that is obviously not in Hong Kong, the location of the story. In 1960 an aggressive and arrogant young man, Yuddy/Tork, seduces a girl he casually met while she was cleaning up at the stadium's box office, So Lai-Chun/ Su Lizhen. She is initially hostile to him but falls for an odd pick-up line: Yuddy tells her that they are already friends for a few seconds, so remember the date and time, April 16 at 3pm. They slowly become lovers, meeting daily at his place. When she asks him whether he'd ever marry her and he says no, she breaks up and disappears. He coldly ignores her. Instead he goes to visit his mother and finds her unconscious in the bathroom. She's probably on drugs. He helps her to the bed than beats the hell out of her lover, who also took two of her earrings. His friend, the showgirl Leung Fung-Ying, better known under the monikers Mimi and Lulu, takes the earrings and he lets her get them if she goes out on a date with him. He takes her straight to his place, implying that he only went out with her to have sex. She pretends she's not that kind of girl, but then starts laughing when he uses violence. By the end of the sex, she's the one who wants to keep in touch and meet again. Again, he's callously cold and indifferent.
His mother comes to talk to him while he's having dinner with friends. She's made at him for beating up her young lover. She is fully aware that her lover only wants her money, but he makes her happy. He is the one being moralistic. She is not his real mother and refuses to help him find his biological mother because she has nothing to gain from it. A former high-class prostitute, she is cynical and selfish, but at least honest and blunt.
So comes to see him: she wants to get back together. Yuddy is honest with her: he's just not the marrying kind. Moreover, Mimi is in the other room and makes a scene. So leaves quietly. Then Mimi yells at Yuddy and pretends she's leaving. He coldly tells her that she won't be able to come back if she walks out of the door; and she stays, justifying it to herself as "i'm not going to be as stupid as the other one who left quietly". They make love.
It is raining in the street. A police officer, Tide, finds the desperate So standing against a wall, sobbing and staring at the pools of water. He lends her some money to get home. The following night she finds him and returns the money, but mostly she needs someone to talk to. They walk around the dark streets and she taks to him about her life. The police officer spends several nights going back to the same place where they met, hoping to see her again, but she's gone forever.
Yuddy's mom now wants to move to the USA with one of her old lovers. Yuddy, again the moralizing one, thinks it's a stupid idea. He needs her more than he's willing to admit. She's practical: she'll be old soon and this could be her last chance. Who's going to take care of her once she's too old to attract lovers? Obviously, she doesn't trust that Yuddy will. Since he insists, she tells him that his mom lives in the Philippines. Determined to find his biological mother, Yuddy decides to travel there, no matter what. He leaves his car to his best friend Zeb.
When she cannot find him, a jealous Mimi assumes that Yuddy has gone back to So and breaks into So's flat to make a scene, and So pities her. He treated both of them like furniture. Mimi is truly devastated. She also visits Yuddy's mom hoping to find out where Yuddy is. Mimi finally learns the truth from Yuddy's best friend Zeb. Zeb has always been in love with Mimi and now tries harder. She has no interest in him. They even fight under the rain when he wants to gives her a ride. She just wants to go to the Philippines. She is really in love. Ashamed that he is driving in Yuddy's flashy car without being as cool as Yuddy, Zeb sells the car and offers the money to Mimi to pay for a ticket to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Yuddy arrives at his mother's mansion only to be turned away: she doesn't want to see him. He takes a room at a hotel where she meets a Caucasian prostitute who later steals his money when he, drunk, falls asleep on a sidewalk. His downfall continued with a shootout in a train station where he is trying to buy a passport of the USA. He and a new friend manage to jump on a train but one of the gangsters finds them and kills Yuddy. The train is riding through the jungle of the first scene. As a narrating voiceover, the new friend talks to Yuddy's dead body: he is the police officer who loved So in vain. So told used to ask him what he did on April 16 at 3pm. Yuddy replies that he remembers nothing.
Mimi arrives in the Philippines; So is at work at the stadium's box office; the phone rings at the phone booth where So and the police officer first met; the police officer wakes up in his humble flat with a low ceiling and gets ready to go to work.

Dung che sai duk/ Ashes of Time (1994), reedited years later, is the satori of Chris Doyle's cinematography. The film is a container of interconnected stories borrowed from Jin Yong's martial arts classic "The Eagle-Shooting Heroes". They are set in an anarchic medieval society in which swordsmen administer justice and revenge. Most of the action takes place in or around a desert cave where the enigmantic protagonist (whose thoughts delivered as voiceover "are" most of the action) lives and hides. The visual style and the atmosphere often evokes Sergio Leone's western movies, but often the oneiric element takes scenes to an extremely cryptic dimension while minimizing the actual action. The first episode explores morbid homosexual and incestuous themes, the others toy with chronology, but the whole still feels fragmented and self-indulgent.

The best part of the film could arguably be the first minute, a metaphysical purely visual introduction to the theme of deconstruction of heroism.
The protagonist is Ouyang Feng, a seasoned middleman who moved from the mountains to the desert. He finds swordsmen for his customers. In the first proper scene he is talking to a 40-year man (we don't see the face), who is basically his typical customer: someone who can't bring himself to kill but desperately wants to kill. Ouyang's friend Huang visits him once a year. This time he brought a gift: a drink that makes you forget. Huang drinks from it and does lose his memory. Ouyang refuses to drink from it.
Huang has been haunted by twins, the girl Yin and the man Yang. Once Huang told the effeminate Yang that he'd marry his sister. Yang wants Huang dead because he did not go through with the wedding, but Yin has a different version of the facts: she wants her brother Yin killed because he disrupted the wedding. He offers money to Ouyang, she doubles the amount. The brother eventually admits that he wants his sister all for himself. Huang has no interest in either of them: his only love is his best friend's wife. When Yang tells Ouyang how he met Huang, he implies that Yin and Yang are actually the same: a young woman in disguise. Ouyang admits he cannot tell Yin from Yang anymore. At night he/she moves closer to Ouyang and touches him sensually. She is imagining that he is Huang. Then she disappears. Later she becomes a legendary female sword master.
One day a beautiful woman comes to ask for revenge against bandits who killed her little bother but only has eggs and a mule to offer. Ouyang tells her that swordsmen want money. She doesn't have the money to pay for a swordsman and refuses to prostitute herself. She camps outside Ouyang's tavern and wait for someone to help her. An aging swordsman comes to ask Ouyang for help fighting the same bandits that terrorize his village. He is going blind and is not sure he can fight them himself. Abandoned by his wife, who is in love with his best friend (Huang?), he falls in love with the poor woman who is camped outside, knowing that he is sealing his fate. He then confronts the army of bandits by himself until he is killed.
Ouyang tells the story of how he discovered Hong Qi as a young barefoot swordsman and turned him into a rich man before he took off on his own with his wife. We also learn that the Ouyang was himself a swordsman who left his love back home and later discovered she had fallen in love with his own brother. Hong Qi fights the bandits for the girl who wants revenge. He loses a finger. The woman begs Ouyang to save his life, but Ouyang refuses to call a doctor because it's expensive. Ouyang is testing if she's willing to prostitute herself to save Hong Qi. A title tells us that in later life Hong Qi and Ouyang duelled and killed each other.
The fourth episode tells the story of the Ouyang himself. He left the mountains the day his love married his brother. She told Huang how she regrets her choice and asked Huang to visit Ouyang yearly to bring her news. That's why Huang visits Ouyang every year. Huang appears to be in love with her himself, a secret he keeps from Ouyang. Before dying of unhappiness she gives Huang the bottle he brought to Ouyang that Ouyang refused to drink. We are back to the beginning of the film. After her death Huang withdraws to live like a hermit. Ouyang receives the news that his love died and decide to return to the mountains.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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Chungking Express (1995) Il poliziotto #223 vive un'esistenza solitaria, convinto di poter riconquistare la donna che l'ha appena lasciato. Le uniche conversazioni le ha con il padrone e la sguattera (Faye) di un food stall. Una gangster sta intanto istruendo un gruppo di indiani su come contrabbandare droga. Li accompagna all'aeroporto, ma li` scompaiono, con la droga. Comincia cosi` a vagare per le strade della citta` alla loro ricerca. #223 decide di sedurla, ma piu` che altro si ubriacano insieme. La donna non ha pieta` nel liquidare chi si mette sulla sua strada, ne' nel prendere in ostaggio una bambina per ricattare un amico degli indiani. Ma alla fine viene altrettanto brutalmente liquidata dagli indiani.
In parallelo la sguattera si e` innamorata del poliziotto #663, reduce da un'avventura con una hostess. La hostess lascia proprio a Faye una busta per il poliziotto, e Faye la legge gelosa. Ottenuto l'indirizzo del poliziotto, penetra di nascosto in casa sua, gliela riordina e pulisce. Finche' lui un giorno la sorprende in flagrante. Il flirt fra i due finisce presto, perche' alla prima "date" Faye non si presenta, e #663 scopre che e` partita per la California, dove intende diventare un'hostess.
Anni dopo Faye ritorna al vecchio food stall, e scopre che e` stato rilevato proprio da #663.
Protagonista del film e` la solitudine. Le scene d'azione sono filmate come dei cartoni animati.

Fallen Angels (1997) Il film segue cinque personaggi. Una donna delle pulizie. Ming e` un killer a pagamento, freddo e spietato. Massacra un gruppo di persone, poi sull'autobus incontra un vecchio compagno di scuola che lo invita al suo matrimonio. In un bar una chanteuse nevrotica suona il juke-box. Una ragazza fuma e si masturba vestita su un letto . La polizia cerca un uomo che si nasconde in uno sgabuzzino. He e` un barista che si diverte a penetrare illegalmente nei negozi di altri e si diverte a gestirli. Costringe gli avventori a pagare per essere lasciati in pace. He e` il comico della situazione, il giullare della tragedia. Sequestra persino un'intera famiglia in un van di gelataio e li costringe a mangiare un gelato dopo l'altro. Vive con il padre in un appartamento angusto.
Il killer compie un altro massacro a pagamento, evitando la trappola che gli hanno teso. Rimane pero` ferito. Una canzone del juke-box e` un messaggio alla sua ex-partner. Una bionda prostituta un po' isterica lo convince a riposarsi a casa sua. La bionda e` una pazza scatenata che si innamora subito di lui. E` in realta` una sua ex, di cui lui non si ricorda.
La donna vestita si masturba di nuovo sul letto e piange.
Il muto consola Charlie, che e` stata abbadonata da Johnny ed e` disperatamente alla ricerca della donna con cui questi sta per sposarsi, Blondie. La porta in moto sfrecciando nel tunnel alla ricerca di Blondie. Non la trovano, perche' Charlie non sa dove vive. Ma lui le offre una bambola gonfiabile su cui sfogare la sua ira. Quando finalmente trovano Blondie, e` una vecchia megera odiata da tutti e nel locale si scatena una rissa. Alla fine rimangono soli a guardare nel vuoto, lei assorta e lui teneramente tentato, ripresi in bianco e nero. Di nuovo in moto sfrecciano nel tunnel. Ming cena al ristorante gestito da He.oHe fa un videotape del padre perseguitandolo giorno e notte. E` il suo modo di scrivere una lettera. Era il compleanno del padre, morto da qualche tempo. Adesso He non resiste alla tentazione di guardare quel video in continuazione. Charlie e` impazzita di dolore, gioca con la carta igienica. Ming va incontro al suo destino: sono pigro, non mi piace prendere decisioni, lascio che gli altri le prendano per me. Questa volta viene ucciso. E` passato del tempo. Il padre e` morto. He vede una hostess che e` Charlie, ma lei neppure lo riconosce. La chanteuse medita in un locale in cui si e` scatenata una rissa, indifferente a tutto. Il muto viene picchiato, ma e` sempre allegro. Il muto prende la chanteuse sulla moto e si avvia nel tunnel.
La cronologia degli eventi non e` chiara. Alcune scene sono flashback. I personaggi raccontano la loro storia, per cui tutto il film e` un gigantesco flashback non sequenziale. Tutti sono infelici e aspettano soltanto un'occasione per morire. Gran parte delle scene sono interni, sia del metro o delle abitazioni o dei negozi o dei tunnel.
In the Mood For Love (2000) is a "Rohmer-ian" comedy that deals with the feelings of a couple of ordinary people. It is also a much more ordinary film than his previous ones and cannot fully sustain the fragile story with a straightforward narrative technique. Mr Chow and Mrs Chan relocate to the same apartment building on the same day and can't help meeting. We never see his wife and her husband, but they are both happily married. She is a secretary and he is a writer. Their social life is limited to their landlords and landladies. Mr Chow has a friend, Ping. Mrs Chan takes care of her boss Ho's private life. They are both polite and diligent.
One day Chan guesses that her husband's "business trips" hide an adulterous relationship and that her lover is Mrs Chow. Mr Chow does not suspect yet, but soon is estranged from his wife following a quarrel. One day the two betrayed meet and reveal each other's truths and feelings: Mrs Chan has noticed that Mr Chow wears the same tie her husband wears and Mr Chow has noticed that Mrs Chan has the same purse his wife has: they all come from the same source. So both have guessed. They start seeing each other discreetly and most of their conversation is really about the other couple. They are especially curious to find out how it starts. They find out because it slowly starts happening to them. But they can't be like the others. He is soon sent to Singapore and then to Cambodia by his newspaper. When Mr Chow finally returns to Hong Kong, he finds that everything has changed.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Betty)

In the mood for love è una commedia "Rohmeriana" a proposito dei sentimenti di una coppia di persone comuni. È inoltre un film molto più ordinario dei suoi precedenti e la tecnica narrativa diretta non regge bene la fragile storia. Il sig. Chow e la sig.ra Chan si trasferiscono nello stesso giorno in diversi appartamenti dello stesso piano di un palazzo e non possono evitare di incontrarsi. Non si vedono apparire i relativi moglie e marito, ma sono entrambi sposati felicemente. Lei e’ una segretaria e lui è uno scrittore. La loro vita sociale è limitata ai relativi padrona e padrone di casa. Il sig. Chow ha un amico, Ping. La sig.ra Chan si prende cura della vita privata del suo capo Ho. Sono entrambi gentili e diligenti. Un giorno Chan pensa che i viaggi di affari di suo marito nascondano una relazione extraconiugale e che l’amante sia la sig.ra Chow. Il sig. Chow non ha ancora il sospetto ma ben presto e’ stranito dalla moglie in seguito a una discussione. Un giorno i due traditi si incontrano e si rivelano l’un l’altro sentimenti e verità: La sig.ra Chan ha notato che il sig. Chow porta la stessa cravatta di suo marito ed il sig. Chow ha notato che la sig.ra Chan ha la stessa borsa che ha anche sua moglie: tutti provengono dallo stesso luogo. Così entrambi si rendono conto. Cominciano vedersi discretamente e la maggior parte della loro conversazione e’ sinceramente rispetto all’altra coppia. Sono particolarmente curiosi di scoprire come il tutto sia cominciato. E lo scoprono, perché lentamente comincia a succedere anche a loro. Ma non possono essere come gli altri. Ben presto lui viene trasferito a Singapore e poi in Cambogia dal suo giornale. Quando il sig. Chow infine ritorna ad Hong Kong, nota che tutto è cambiato.

2046 (2004), ostensibly a continuation of Mood, is actually a sophisticated hybrid of quotations: the Proust-ian theme of melancholy memory, Josef von Sternberg' baroque visual style, the stereotypes of the pulp science-fiction novel, the doomed atmosphere of the film noir of the 1950s, replete with a brilliantined hero and femme fatales, and Wedekind's expressionist theater. It is particularly striking how differently he visualizes women and men. The psychology of men is only superfically sketched, and mainly summarized in traditional stereotypes (the young ones want sex, the older ones want morality). In fact, we learn almost nothing about the putative male protagonist: we don't even learn why he is writing the novel (which, in any case, feels more like the subconscious of one of the girls who talks to herself all the time). The women, instead, are elaborate masterpieces of long atmospheric takes drenched in oneiric colors. Wong is a distracted passer-by when it comes to men, but a voyeur and fetishist when it comes to women. It is only after we have followed his adventures for two hours (mostly inside hotel rooms) that we begin to know the protagonist. Wong is masterful in shifting the mood of the story: the life of the libertine, through the girl who devotes herself to an impossible love story, is suddenly permeated by a sense of loneliness. Then we learn of how he lost the woman he loved, and became immune to the love of other women.
Wong toys with the number 2046, which is, coincidentally, the year mandated by the government of China for full assimilation of the former British territory of Hong Kong. There are also frequent, documentary-style references to the riots that consumed the colony in the 1960s, contrasted with the lazy, languid, decadent lifestyle of the hotel. The voiceover of a young Japanese man explains that people travel by bullet train to 2046 in order to retrieve their memories. He is the first one to ever come back, so he is the only person who knows what truly happens in 2046...
Chow Mo-wan, a middle-age man, used to live in Singapore, where he fell in love with a sexy gambler, Li-zhen, who one day played a card game with him and won, her victory meaning that he had to leave her behind. Mo-wan moved to Hong Kong in 1966, at the time of the student riots. Indifferent to the social revolution, Mo-wan took on the life of a committed libertine while working as a humble journalist.
He meets again a woman he used to date in Singapore, Lulu, who doesn't even remember him, although he was one of the friends who paid for her passage to Hong Kong. She gets drunk and, when she passes out, Mo-wan carries her to her hotel. As a real gentleman, he simply takes her shoes off and then he leaves her alone. On the way out he notices that she is staying in room 2046, which happens to be a familiar number (the year when Hong Kong will be fully assimilated into China). The narrating voiceover explains that 2046 became the title of the book that he is currently writing (hence the science-fiction beginning was just the beginning of the book that he is writing). Mo-wan comes back two days later but there is no trace of Lulu, who was actually registered as Mimi. Mo-wan takes the room next door, 2047, because the owner does not want to rent 2046. Later, Mo-wan learns that Lulu was stabbed to death by a jealous boyfriend. Nonetheless, Mo-wan decides to stay. He is intrigued by the daughter of the owner, Jing, another beautiful woman but of a completely different kind: she was forced by her Japanese-hating father to break up with her Japanese boyfriend (the one who introduced the sci-fi story "2046") and now she spends her days talking to herself loud enough that Mo-wan can hear her from his room. Mo-wan also meets the younger daughter, a precocious teenager who repeatedly tried to seduce him in his room. Eventually this one runs away with another man, and Mo-wan learns that the older one is at the hospital for mysterious reasons. Meanwhile, Mo-wan keeps writing his sci-fi tales titled "2046" in which he casts some of his old flames as sexy androids in scenes probably reminiscent of his own sexual escapades with those girls (and Jing's Japanese boyfriend Tak as the time traveler). Mo-wan even reimagines the stabbing and cries thinking about it. All the time he keeps womanizing around. One day a new guest moves into room 2046, a sexy woman, Bai. At first he hears her when she bangs against the wall complaining that he is making too much noise during one of his sex tour de forces. Mo-wan guesses correctly that she must be a call girl and even tries to sell her to his best friend even before having met her. Then he meets her and falls for her sophisticated manners. They spend a tender Christmas day together. She has just been dumped by a boyfriend who had promised to take her to Singapore. He thinks she is now his girlfriend but she does not show up at the fancy dinner he throws for her with his friends. Later, however, they have wild sex. Mo-wan insists on paying for it, even if just a token amount, and this becomes a tradition: they have the most passionate sex but he always pays for it, and no sex when he is broke. When he travels to Macao for business, his best friend warns Bai not to fall in love with Mo-wan because he is never serious with women.
Instead she falls in love. So far both of them have been having sex with other people (she for business and he for pleasure) but now she wants a monogamous relationship. Mo-wan smiles and politely rejects the offer. Hurt, she cries. Indifferent to her tears, he simply tells her that she's always welcome to come to his room when she's in the mood. He is perfectly happy with the status quo, not surprised a bit that she would like to upgrade it to a real relationship, but also not interested at all in it. The wall that separates room 2046 and room 2047 is thin. She tries to make him jealous by having very loud sex with other men, but instead it's her who suffers when she hears the orgasmic moaning of his many girlfriends. Eventually, she moves out and continues her career of call girl.
At the same time the owner's daughter Jing moves back in after her mysterious disappearance. She resumes her talking aloud and her arguments with her father about the Japanese boy. Mo-wan offers to help her: let the Japanese boy send the letters to him so her father will not know anymore. He also helps her find a job so she can move out. They become good friends. She's also an aspiring writer and Mo-wan realizes she's actually better than him. She begins to ghost write his stories when he's sick or tired. He begins to write stories in which she is a character, an attractive android attendant on the train to 2046. Her father is the train's conductor. The Japanese boy chats amicably with her father and makes love to her. (These stories, of course, feel more like the subconscious of Jing, the girl who used to talk to herself all the time and now is becoming a writer).
Mo-wan invites her to dinner on Christmas Eve. Jing is unhappy: she has decided to break up with the Japanese boy, feeling that it's an impossible story. Mo-wan keeps writing more and more melancholy stories about the android and the Japanese time traveler, now part of a book titled "2047". Instead, a few days later the hotel owner tells Mo-wan that he's going to Japan to attend... Jing's wedding. The man also tells Mo-wan that Jing likes "2047" but would like a happy ending. Trouble is, Mo-wan doesn't know how to write happy endings. He meditates that he wasted the happy ending with Bai.
Fate makes him encounter again both Lulu, who is still the same jealous bitch, and Bai, who needs references to be hired in a night-club.
A flashback shows what happened in Singapore in the old days. He was gambling in the hope to win enough money to travel back to Hong Kong. He was fascinated by the female professional gambler of the casino who always wore black, nicknamed "Black Spider". She took pity of him and helped him win the money he needed. He had told her of another woman also called Li-zhen whom he had loved: unfortunately she was married, and only briefly they lived together in a hotel room, number 2046. The black spider Li-zhen understood that Mo-wan was in love with that ghost, not with her, and refused to tell him her own past. Whatever the reason, she refused to follow him to Hong Kong, despite crying bitterly when they parted. He went back years later looking for her at the casino, but nobody knew what happened of her.
Now he is having a melancholy goodbye dinner with Bai. She is the one leaving: she got enough money to move to Singapore after selling herself to an old man. She timidly tries one more time to invite him to her place but he simply wishes her a nice life and walks away, still indifferent to her love. She cries again.
Mo-wan takes a taxi home, alone again.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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