At Brattle, dreamer ‘World of Wong Kar Wai’ finally hits the big screen


There is a certain irony in the idea of ​​a retrospective of Wong Kar Wai, as so many of his characters are already living in the past. His best films are like memories of themselves, rhapsodies of regret and lingering visions of those who escaped. “The world of Wong Kar WaiIs a Janus Films project that has been going on for years and features new meticulous restorations of seven contemporary classics by this most unique and influential filmmaker. Due to the pandemic, the series aired last December at Coolidge Corner Theater virtual screening room before being published as a Criterion Collection box set. But like watching Wong Kar Wai movies in a theater, it’s like living in someone else’s dream for a little while, the Brattle brought it back to the big screen. The series kicks off on Christmas Day with a 35mm print of Wong’s 2000 masterpiece “Love mood”, With the six other films in the series scheduled to follow until December 30.

Critics are the annoying kind who disagree on much, but there is a general consensus calling “In the Mood for Love” the best film of this new century so far, and I don’t hear it. not a lot of arguments. Set in the Shanghai of the early 1960s of the director’s childhood, it stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung as next door neighbors who develop forbidden feelings for each other after having discovered that their spouses are having an affair. The film is a marvel of repression, emotional constriction taking physical form as these characters are crammed into cramped hallways and narrow lanes, our views often obscured by looming objects in the foreground. They’re crammed into these sets as she is in his tight-fitting cheongsams and he in his tightly tied ties. Even the executives are tight, holding hands that come incredibly close to touch as neighbors politely walk up the stairs.

A photo from “In the Mood for Love” by director Wong Kar Wai. (Courtesy Janus Films)

It’s an intensely emotional experience that burns into the viewer’s brain, mounted so elliptically that you feel like you remember the movie even when you first see it. “In the Mood for Love” is one of those movies styled so forcefully that it makes the real world look weird for a little while when you’re done watching it. I still remember coming home on the Orange Line after the first press screening at Copley Place, and when my old college roommate went to see the movie, as soon as it was over he came out and did. queuing for the next show. There has never been such a perfectly distilled portrayal of an unrequited desire, though an evil part of me prefers the mess of the controversial “2046” movie sequel – oddly not included in the retrospective – in which Leung Chiu-Wai’s character becomes a womanizer rake, realizing that even Asia’s most beautiful actresses cannot compare to her memories of what might have been.

This kind of heartbreak dates back to Wong’s first film, 1988’s “As the tears fall”, Which is also another prime example of how so many talented young male filmmakers need at least one movie to get Martin Scorsese’s“ Mean Streets ”out of their system. But the film takes off whenever it focuses on the protagonist’s illicit love for his cousin (Cheung again) on a fainted Cantonese cover of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”. He hit his stride with the 1990s “Days of being wild“, Wong’s first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a larger-than-life Australian expat who is as if a drunk and brawler Hemingway character is also a self-taught genius with a camera. The radically expressive lighting of Doyle would provide the key to the director’s dreamy aesthetic on a tumultuous crew that sadly came to an end in the roughly four years they spent filming “2046.”

A photo of director Wong Kar Wai "Days of being wild." (Courtesy Janus Films)
A still from the film “Days of Being Wild” by director Wong Kar Wai. (Courtesy Janus Films)

My favorite Wong Kar Wai movie was also my first and probably remains the best entry point for the uninitiated. 1994’s “Chungking Express”Got an unusually bright launch for a foreign language film in America, thanks to a hugely influential and exciting fan. Quentin Tarantino saw the film at a festival in Stockholm and loved it so much that he cried, intimidating Harvey Weinstein into buying it for him and releasing the film under the director’s short-lived imprint. Rolling Thunder Pictures. I don’t think Tarantino gets enough credit for the way he got young people interested in international cinema. (The original VHS and DVD versions of “Chungking Express” include extras from the filmmaker getting excited in the old video seller’s full mode, making recommendations and providing a driving mini-story of the French New Wave and its sound. influence on the movie you just watched.) It was because of Tarantino’s tireless support that I went to see “Chungking Express” at a Rolling Thunder event attended by Wong. I remember he was smoking cigarettes and wearing his sunglasses inside, wondering aloud if there was any way to sneak up to see “Casino” from Scorsese, which had just come out.

“Chungking Express” is the most endearing and adorable film by Wong Kar Wai, an unusually sunny whirling dervish with an image positively drunk on his own technique. The director was in the midst of editing his hugely budgeted, late-on-schedule wuxia epic “Ashes of Time” and found himself at a creative stalemate. This quick project was designed as a throat-clearing exercise during a break from post-production on “Ashes” and was shot in just 23 days, with Wong writing the script in the morning and filming in the afternoon. and the night. The feeling of freewheeling liberation shines through in the film’s silly exuberance. As with those early French New Wave films Tarantino was talking about, “Chungking Express” feels exhilarating unfettered, as if something could happen.

The Forked Structure tells two separate stories that are secretly the same, about two heartbroken cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and our old friend Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) who just got dumped and would rather shut up and wallow in their own pity. . instead of opening up to the new possibilities of love and happiness that abound in this crazy cityscape. I understand how one could convincingly argue that this is the plot of all Wong Kar Wai movie, but this time around it’s played for a laugh, teasing the most absurd elements of these men’s emotional constipation. The mirrored stories are reflected in the cinema, which never misses an opportunity to dub the frames and uses constant repetitions of songs, shots and sayings as the formal equivalent of the routines these characters so badly need to break free from.

A photo of director Wong Kar Wai "Chungking Express." (Courtesy Janus Films)
A still from the film “Chungking Express” by director Wong Kar Wai. (Courtesy Janus Films)

Leung Chiu-Wai isn’t much of a sleuth, failing to notice that the young girl at his favorite food stand (Cantopop star Faye Wong in her movie debut) broke into her sad bachelor pad and was cleaning her house. , to finally redecorate the place while he languishes at work. Kaneshiro’s hotshot is also oblivious to the fact that the lady he’s fallen for at the bar (Brigitte Lin, wearing a blonde wig, trench coat and sunglasses like a 1940s femme fatale) is running a haunt of drug mules as daily work. There is a sublime silliness in their romantic confusion and missed connections, a fantasy absent from other Wong films when it comes to these mortals’ fools.

Arguably the most endearing film ever made, “Chungking Express” sort of gets away with breaking just about every editing rules, story structure, camera technique, and conventional wisdom, bouncing back and forth with it. the same playful confidence with which Faye Wong jumps around her secret crush. apartment to the beat of “California Dreamin ‘.” You can easily see why someone like Quentin Tarantino would cry tears of happiness while watching this movie. It leaves you with the feeling of endless possibilities, not just for romance, but for the wonderful things movies can do.

The world of Wong Kar WaiTakes place at the Brattle Theater from Saturday 25 December to Thursday 30 December.


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