On Sunday, I was suffering from a variety of unrelated (I believe) ailments including my seasonal allergies (soar throat, headache, and general congestion) and some stomach virus. Maybe some day I will tell the story of when I was temporarily converted into a human espresso machine in Barcelona.
In any event, I decided to forgoe reading and spent the day watching In the Mood for Love and 2046, two films by Wong Kar-Wai. I used to be a huge Wong Kar-Wai fan and have his entire film collection on DVD. After Sunday’s marathon, I would have to say that In the Mood for Love is his best film.
In the Mood for Love takes place in the early 1960s Hong Kong. Its original Cantonese title is “Age of Blossom” and theoretically many of the images, food, and dress are supposed to indicate the season (or “age”) in which the event is “blossoming”. For those, like myself, who are not familiar with this imagery, the motifs are lost. Nevertheless, the aesthetics of the film are unique and superb. Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer who has also worked on a number of other Wong Kar-Wai films as well as other Asian films like Hero. The film also has a wonderful soundtrack composed by Michael Galasso and songs by Nat King Cole (in Spanish) and other Chinese pop tunes from the time period.
The story is about two neighbors who notice that their respective spouses are cheating on them (and doing so amongst with the other’s spouse). The two begin to meet to discuss this and eventually begin to form a relationship (of sorts) themselves. They begin by engaging in role playing to prepare themselves for confronting their spouses about the affair, and yet at times you are not quite sure whether they are speaking to their spouses, to each other, or actually discussing their own feelings for each other. What’s so refreshing about the stoy is that you never quite learn whether something acutally happens between them. Most movies spoon feed you everything, so there is nothing left for the imagination.
Wong Kar-Wai is known for shooting and reshooting the same scenes with different dialogues and then only deciding which to use at the last minute. Many times, the actors themselves don’t even know where the director is going with the film. In some of the footage that has been removed from the final cut, it does appear that the protaganists’ relationship was in fact requited. Nevertheless, I prefer the final version where the viewer does not know. It is as if the beauty of the story is the aesthetics of being in the “mood for love” and the rest is irrelevant.
In its sequel, 2046, on the other hand, the male protagonist deals with coming to terms with the frustrated romance. But, 2046 is less clean and is more incoherent than In the Mood for Love. It does contain some of the principle motifs that are seen is all of his films: the incredible sense of loniless and solitude, especially felt when living in crowded cities or closed quarters (the exception would be Ashes of Time where the loniless is felt in the vast wilderness), clocks and the passing of time, numerology, and a romantic and fatalistic view of love.
In his last three movies, there are also a couple of other ongoing images and motifs, the least important of which is a couple sharing a taxi. The other one is the idea of liberating oneself of a secret that one has been hiding deep inside (something that I don’t quite relate to because I pretty much tell all). In both In the Mood for Love and 2046, the secret is to be taken to a mountain where one digs a hole into a tree, whispers the secret into the hole and then fills it in with mud. In Happy Together, one is supposed to travel to a lighthouse at the southern most part of Argentina and tell the secret to the wind.
In terms of my favorite of his films, Chungking Express (for its lightheartedness) and Happy Together stand out amongst the rest. 2046, disjointed as mentioned, is worthwhile at least just to watch Zhang Ziyi. Days of Being Wild and Fallen Angels are good for the die hard fans, whereas As Tears Go By is of little importance. Ashes of Time is more of a surrealistic martial arts film, but because I could barely follow the story, I really cannot comment.
Overall though, my favorite is In the Mood for Love, a film that I can watch over and over again and still get something new and still want to get something more.