Kar-Wai Wong. For the purposes of this list his strengths are his two giant masterpieces and the fact that he is certainly a “style-plus” director.  It’s hard to think of an auteur that is more of a “style-plus” director actually which would support the argument that Kar-Wai Wong belongs in the top 5 or 10 on this list and not 22nd . On the other hand, his filmography doesn’t warrant top 5-10 ranking and frankly doesn’t quite match even some of those behind him on this list. Almost nobody though has a film to touch In the mood for Love. It’s my highest rated movie from 1983- to now—hard to account for that on this list. His weakness is the back end of that overall filmography though I’m really excited to revisit The Grandmaster and a few others.

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from The Grandmaster – I really hope I’m underrating this one

Best film:  In the Mood for Love. Scroll down to the stylistic innovation/traits section- this film has got it all and it haunts me for weeks if not months after every time I see it because of the formal magnificence. It continues to move up my all-time list. The film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history—it may be my go-to example now when discussing film form—along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Toyko Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch—a combination of Greenaway’s stylistic maximums (and form), Jarmusch’s strict repetition. The violins in the score by as Mike Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi – reiteration. Formal genius- slow-motion sequences, triggered by the same violin musical score as they have chance encounters in the hallway, alley—smoke and rain—always at night.  It’s elliptical—a feat of editing—we’re getting glimpses between the two like Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Half-open doorways giving beauty and depth to the focus in mise-en-scene(Ozu), passing each other on stairs.

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stunner from In the Mood for Love
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decor perfection, mirror work, costume chic

total archiveable films:  8

top 100 films: 1 (In the Mood For Love)

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In the Mood for Love- the exacting precision of a Dreyer or Nolan with the feeling of an uninhibited free-flowing artist like Fellini or Malick

top 500 films: 4 (In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express, 2046, Days of Being Wild)

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Chungking Express – angles, framing and shadow

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express, 2046, Days of Being Wild)

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his work in the 90’s – like Chungking Express – almost all have this green tint neon work like this here- beautiful

most overrated:  Happy Together– #362 all-time on TSPDT. I’ve only seen it once and I know Kar-Wai Wong’s films need more room to breathe than that. However, after one pass I think lofty consensus TSPDT (it’s not in my top 500) ranking has as much to do with the groundbreaking-ness of the story/narrative as it does with Kar-Wai Wong direction and that’s just not something I put a lot of stock in.

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Happy Together- artistry in the details with the lighting in the background here

most underrated :  2046 at #875 all-time on TSPDT and I’m at #338. The visuals are closer to In the Mood for Love than the consensus ranking would allude.

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2046 with an image Ozu would be proud of – mise-en-scene
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this floral work here could be from Antonioni’s Red Desert- avant-garde
obstructing the mise-en-scene with object, shadows

gem I want to spotlight:  Days of Being Wild. If you haven’t seen it check it out. It’s really the beginning all of the stylistic traits used in Chungking and In the Mood for Love. The color pattern is different (there’s a gorgeous yellow/green neon hue to it all) but it’s still all about bold formal and aesthetic choices for Kar-Wai Wong.

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Wellesian angle here in Days of Being Wild
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clock, symbolism – form and cutaways from Days of Being Wild
Days of Being Wild– a consistent lighting motif for sure

stylistic innovations/traits:  In a word: lyrical. This is where you can go crazy with Kar-Wai Wong and have fun. His films’ themes and narratives are invocations of memory and regret. He’s known for his virtuoso camerawork with director of photography Christopher Doyle, split storylines, and elliptical editing. He’s avant-garde with his mise-en-scene framing, slow motion, jump cuts, fragmented images, formal repetition of music, drenched color tones and use of neon. He’s a wonderful auteur. He repeats the use of symbols (clocks), back of heads (not unlike Lynch). He uses the same song over and over like “California Dreamin” in Chungking and Nat King Cole in In the Mood for Love. I’ve mentioned many other directors from Dreyer to Greenaway—I could see it being a combination of Jarmusch and Malick as well—the formal rigor and genius-level photography—Malick isn’t perfect because he shoots nature and WKW shoots cities—but I’m having a hard time finding another auteur who shot films as handsome as the two of them—Michael Mann maybe- I mean Mann makes beautiful urban films but again never quite like Kar-Wai Wong.

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From Fallen Angels- the lighting from his 90’s period is right there with Fincher’s body of work – stunning

top 10

In the Mood for Love- cinematic bliss
  1. In the Mood for Love
  2. Chungking Express
  3. 2046
  4. Days of Being Wild
  5. Happy Together
  6. Ashes of Time
  7. The Grandmaster
  8. Fallen Angels
tone poem elliptical editing, perfection in the decor, soft focus here

By year and grades

1990- Days of Being Wild MS
1994- Ashes of Time R
1994- Chungking Express MP
1995- Fallen Angels R
1997- Happy Together R
2000- In the Mood For Love MP
2004- 2046 MS
2013- The Grandmaster R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives