Wong Kar Wai double feature
- 15 Mar 2023
- These two movies are must-sees among the Hong Kong genre, although your enjoyment might vary.
I’ve intended to write a post about Chungking Express and In The Mood For Love for a few months. Valetine’s Day would’ve been an ideal occasion, because both movies are about searching or finding—although not necessarily attaining—love. That ship has long sailed, but in some ways, now is a better time to reflect on these influential, if somewhat obscure, movies directed by Wong Kar Wai.
The buzz around the Oscars haul of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the final movie of Quintin Tarantino are good reasons to mention these movies. The former is visibly, although not entirely, Southeast Asian like Chungking Express and In The Mood For Love, and the latter has always extolled them and their writer-director. I’ve enjoyed both movies, but the latter is definitely better.
Chungking Express (1994)
This movie is very mid-90s in its look and feel. If you’ve lived long enough to have memories of this time period, then you know without seeing it. For the plot, it’s essentially two stories in one. They both follow a forlorn street cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung) in Hong Kong, but the only connection between them, besides maybe their unit, is the fast-food shop that they both frequent. Each cop’s story involves an intriguing woman.
The woman of the first story (Brigitte Lin) is a shady criminal of some kind, and the woman of the other story (Faye Wong) is a prototypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The second story might be better, but I can’t vividly recall how they end. The most memorable aspect of each story is their respective theme song. Wong Kar Wai uses Dinah Washington’s “What A Difference a Makes” and Faye Wong’s Catonese cover of The Cranberries’s “Dreams” to good effect.
In The Mood For Love (2000)
Six years, and three movies, after the release Chungking Express is Wong Kar Wai’s most acclaimed movie. This one also stars Tony Leung, like most of Wong’s movies, and he plays opposite Maggie Cheung. I’d heard praise about this movie from the Cinefix channel on YouTube. I’d also listened to Bryan Ferry’s rendition of “I’m In The Mood For Love” that had reportedly inspired the English title of this movie.
It doesn’t play in the movie, but it’s part of the accompanying soundtrack, and it has a Southeast Asian tinge to my musically-untrained ears. Nat King Cole has three Spanish-language songs that feature; the fact that he even has three Spanish-language songs is surprising to me. The most memorable song is the orchestral score, “Yumeji’s Theme,” because it reprises throughout the movie.
The slow-motion scenes when it plays are frequent, but they’re somehow not lame or tired. The context and the visuals make them interesting. The depiction of early 1960s in Hong Kong is a sight to behold. The two leads play characters who rent adjacent bedrooms with their respective spouses, but their spouses soon have an affair with each other. Watching them struggle to keep their dignity—and integrity—despite their love is the core of the story.
Wong Kar Wai isn’t a household name, and these two movies aren’t staples among greatest-of lists by casual viewers. He hasn’t made a movie in several years and I don’t know if he’ll make another. I might or might not see his other movies, but I hope that more people with even a passing interest in Asian cinema will see them. If nothing else, they serve as time capsules of their actual era (Chungking Express) or depicted era (In The Mood For Love).