Elegant women in elegant dresses move fluidly through crowded restaurants, their dark hair pinned into perfect chignons. Men with slicked-back hair smoke thin cigarettes, the lit ash dangling at the tip like a diver at the end of a board. Sultry glances are cast across hotel hallways, and a silent taxi ride acts as a forbidden rendezvous.
It must be a Wong Kar Wai film.
For the unacquainted, Wong Kar Wai is a Chinese director, renowned for his idiosyncratic working methods and languid, visually sublime films. He is arguably most famous for his films starring respected Chinese actor Tony Leung, especially In the Mood For Love and, more recently, 2046, which track a lonely writer’s thwarted attempts to find lasting love. But don’t let the subject matter fool you — there’s not a Vaselined lens in sight. Scripts are shunned, shots are long and pacing is luxuriant and slow.
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When At The Movies presenter Margaret Pomeranz asked about his working methods, he offered this insight:
“Sometimes people think, ‘Well, why don’t you work with a script?’ I said, ‘The script is only a part of this process. It’s only the foundations. It is only a blueprint.’ If a script is good enough, then you should be a writer, make it into a novel. Cinema has certain qualities, and it’s the image. Sometimes this image has its own breathing or tempo. It has to linger, and will linger because you want to have more. It is very instinctive.”
Instinctive and sensual, as illustrated by the slow-burn eroticism of In the Mood For Love. The film tells the story of two lonesome neighbours who begin a doomed non-affair when their respective spouses are out of town. Starring the beautiful Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung (essentially Asia’s answer to George Clooney), it’s a 98-minute symphony of fleeting embraces and suppressed sexual tension, all set against the stylish backdrop of 60s Hong Kong.
It’s a set-up Kar Wai revisits in 2004’s 2046, albeit with a slightly sci-fi bent. Again starring Tony Leung as the bachelor scribe, the film takes the basic premise of In the Mood and gives it a surrealist edge, with the writer’s romantic liaisons forming a series of futuristic fantasy sequences drawn from a short story he’s penning. Gong Li smoulders as a gambling spinster and Faye Wong is captivating as the waifish Wang Jing.
But it’s Zhang Ziyi — best known to Western audiences for her work in Memoir of a Geisha and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — who impresses the most as a tempestuous escort who falls for Leung’s emotionally stunted author.
Gorgeous cinematography, gorgeous actors and gorgeous clothing. Treat yourself.
The details: In the Mood For Love and 2046 are both available on DVD.