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.
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.
total archiveable films: 8
top 100 films: 1 (In the Mood For Love)
top 500 films: 4 (In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express, 2046, Days of Being Wild)
top 100 films of the decade: 4 (In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express, 2046, Days of Being Wild)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- In the Mood for Love
- Chungking Express
- Days of Being Wild
- Happy Together
- Ashes of Time
- The Grandmaster
- Fallen Angels
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|
|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
Which films of his should I start with. I heard that in the mood for love is part of a series, not the first. Is that true? Does it make sense to watch alone?
@D.W. Griffth- I mean I have them ranked in order if you want to start there- but he’s certainly of the stature worthy of watching every single one of his films and I always try to watch them in in order of release if possible. In the Mood For Love is part of an informal trilogy- his love trilogy- with Days of Being Wild and 2046. But certainly it stands on its own as well. It isn’t like they are that connected or you’ll be lost without seeing Days of Being Wild first
Big fan of WKW, I’m curious as to why you only have Fallen Angels as R since it shares a lot in common with Chungking Express, it’s certainly not as good but definitely has a lot of stylistic similarities. I believe the story line was actually supposed to be part of Chungking Express until WKW realized it would make more sense to just make it it’s own movie
This may sound strange but after a recent viewing of Chungking Express I was reminded of Blade Runner – there are similarities in the use of color schemes, particularly the use of blue
Every scene in the film takes place at night – and often in the rain also Blade Runner like
the interiors of the film and the way many characters are densely packed into a small area or room
even parts of the score are reminiscent of Blade Runner
I’m not entirely sure what to make of all this but it was something that jumped out at me
@James Trapp- it doesn’t sound strange at all- I think Blade Runner is one of those seminal films that can be mentioned and referenced like this
I don’t want to sound smug but there will be a Wong Kar Wai retrospective in my theater, i will see almost all of his films, very exciting.
I can’t wait to hear California Dreamin over and over again.
I just wanted to share my happiness with you guys.
@Aldo– happy for you- that is exciting!
Thanks. Since i am on the WKW page i will ask something that has been around my head for a long time.
What do you think about that WKW is finished?
I’ve heard quite a few people 15-20, who think WKW is over.
Mainly because he hasn’t put out good movies in quite a while and for example The Grandmaster doesn’t look the same as his other movies.
And most mention the same, having ended their relationship with Christopher Doyle is the cause. This because Doyle gave the atmosphere to his movies and why they don’t look the same.
In other news i heard that WKW will be making a sequel to Chungking Express.
@Aldo- I hope I’m wrong but I would guess that he’s done at this point. Maybe he’ll make another archiveable film or two– but he’s done being an all-time great filmmaker.
@Aldo – sounds wonderful! Good luck bouncing back to reality after all that cinematic bliss.
@Georg. Thank you, if it will be a rude awakening after that lyrical journey.
Maybe someone else is lucky, apparently the hindsight is not only in my country, look.
@Aldo – oh yes, mubi. I think they’re going to get pretty big. Unfortunately, it wasn’t concerning my country, but they changed their premise – it used to be like thirty films available, each day one is added, another falls off, but now they’re streaming an insane number of movies. And they’re all top notch – it’s made for cinephiles more so than any other streaming service. I’m seriously thinking about subscribing.
Does anyone here know where I can watch Days of Being Wild (1990)
It’s not on the Criterion Channel and that is where I have seen the rest
of his films except for Grandmaster (2013) as that was on Netflix
Try justwatch.com it will tell you in which service a movie appears (if it is).
I think you can find it in MUBI
thanks I’ll check those out, I’ve been wanting to watch this one for a while now, love WKW
For any WKW fans out there the Criterion Collection is releasing a WKW Blue Ray Box Set which includes 7 of his films including As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, 2046.
Just ordered mine?
@James Trapp – I have been waiting for them to release that box set for more than a month now. I certainly hope you enjoy it!
@Georg – thanks, same to you. March 23rd is the date of the release so I pre-ordered hopefully it comes around then without too much of a wait. Very excited as I’ve only seen As Tears Go By (1988) and Days of Being Wild (1990) once each and both were pretty terrible quality. Even so both were great so I can only imagine how much better they will be. I also love Fallen Angels (1995) way more than most it seems.
@Janes Trapp – I haven’t watched As Tears Go By, unfortunately, but Days of Being Wild is an incredible film and the criterion restoration really does justice to all that colour. Fallen Angels is pretty great, I’ll agree. Perpetually underrated, unfortunately. I think it’s because it pales in comparison with Chungking Express, people didn’t see much to it, but technically speaking, they’re very similar. WKW achieves a much darker tone, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but admittedly it’s not his strongest spot and Fallen Angels is a little messier than most of his films so I guess that’s a fair argument. I can’t say I love it, and I’d probably take 4 or 5 other WKW films over it, but it’s still a wonderful little journey.
@Georg – I think you’re right about Fallen Angels (1995) being underrated because it’s a very similar but clearly inferior version of Chungking Express (1994).
It kind of reminds me of how people underrate Scorsese’s Casino (1995) because it’s a similar but clearly inferior version of Goodfellas (1990) although I’d argue those 2 movies have more differences than most people realize.
@James Trapp – Apart from the cast, the themes and the tone of the films, I don’t really see Goodfellas and Casino as being as similar as most people think. They’re actually quite different. However I need to point out that I haven’t watched Goodfellas in more than five years and Casino is not exactly in recent memory as well, so there’s that.
@James Trapp. The problem is, it’s those hideous restorations.
If you can get the older versions go for it.
I don’t know what WKW was thinking
Apparently the versions that i will see in the theater are the horrible restorations.
Has anyone seen the restorations? I remember asking Drake and he said no, now i ask everyone.
Either way i’m going to see, and i’ll tell if they look as horrible as everyone says.
Starting a Wong Kar Wai Study, I recently got the Criterion box set which includes 7 of his films: As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, 2046. The other 3 are available in other places.
This will be my 2nd attempt at doing a Director Study, just did one for Orson Welles and I can definitely say doing it chronologically is the way to go.
@James Trapp– fantastic- please keep up posted.
Unfortunately i lost my notes haha, so i had to rewrite them, i got to see Chungking express at the theater (2 weeks ago)
As for the restoration i have no problem, it looks almost identical.
Now the important thing, the film, if In the mood for the love is the best example of form in the cinema, Chungking express has to be the second.
Look for multiple reviews and few or no reviews about the form, they talk about such superficial things.
It is magnificent, there is truly no one to compare WKW to, it borrows from all the great filmmakers, jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion, kinetic camera, non-linear narration, formal rigor. His work combines the playfulness and disenchantment of Godard, the visual fantasias of Fellini, the chic existentialism of Antonioni, and Bergman brooding uncertainties.
It is interesting to compare the first story with the second, it is like watching Breathless and Jules and Jim, with the kinetic camera style, because in this part the characters are running around, living hectic lives
I barely noticed,, but Faye’s character reminds me of Hepburn in Bringing up baby, she even leaves behind a huge toy cat (Garfield) referring to the leopard in the aforementioned movie as a substitute for the white teddy bear. Leung, as Cary Grant’s character, is introverted, while Faye, as Hepburn’s character, is dizzyingly outgoing. I also just realized that the femme fatale with a wig is Gloria (Cassavetes).
Something that i found very interesting is the interconnectedness of the characters and the situations. There are many establishment shots showing characters inhabiting the same places at different times, and even the same places at the same times, without ever noticing each other.
Here are two reviews that i found very interesting
Error, i did not put the second analysis.
@Aldo – I only discovered WKW myself about 2 years ago on the Criterion Channel and he’s a revelation in my film journey. His films have boundless energy and feel fresh regardless of how many times you watch them. I would definitely recommend Chungking Express to anyone interested in getting into foreign films, I think it’s a good starting place or even for anyone who’s just looking for “something different”. It’s amazing what can happen when a filmmaker is not constrained by a standard plot/storyline.
Have you had any chance to catch on the 4K restorations yet?
@Alejandro – I have not- but I know others regular commenters on the site have.
@Alejandro – I have started watching all of WKW’s films. I bought the Criterion World of Wong Kar Wai box set. At this point I’ve watched As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, and Chungking Express and so far it’s worth every penny in my opinion.
One film in 13 years. That’s a little dissapointing. Scorsese who is 16 years older made 5 films in that time.
1. In the Mood for Love – MP
2. Chungking Express – MP
3. 2046 – MP
4. Days of Being Wild – MP
5. Ashes of Time – MP
6. Fallen Angels – MS (leaning MS/MP)
7. Happy Together – MS
8. The Grandmaster – MS
9. As Tears Go By – MS (Fringe)
Best Film: In the Mood for Love. Everything that’s been said about this film has already been said and there’s really not much way to elevate this movie through words. If you haven’t seen this movie, do so. Drake ranks this as the 13th best film of all time and that is no exaggeration. Not one thing in this film is a step out of place, from the combination of the score with the slow-motion, to his famous choppy editing (where he cuts out individual frames to create a pseudo-slowmo look). Even the most minor of stylistic choices in this film, such as a split second where the camera rapidly tracks Leung during the first moment the two leads reveal their knowledge of their spouses’ infidelity is brilliant. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to believe that such a perfect work of cinema actually exists, but anybody who has seen it would know it does. And somehow, on top of that, it’s position as #1 is no landslide. Coming out of Chungking Express I actually believed it was superior to In the Mood for Love, but then I thought more about it and I felt his later masterwork was the superior film. On top of that, 2046 as his third-best film is right up there behind the others as a giant MP, and I actually think, and this is surprising given how formal his other two Top 100-worthy films are, that it may be his most formal work; it’s even referential to all, I feel, of WKW’s previous films in many ways; I actually think, if it weren’t so flawed (the two ahead of it are nearly flawless and this one starts out with garish CGI so there you go), that it might have been WKW’s best work. And it may still be, but I’m just not there yet.
Most Overrated: I’m not totally certain that he has an overrated film, but if I had to mention one it would have to be Happy Together. This film ends up at #332 on the TSPDT All-Time list and like Drake, I’m not sure I’d go that high. I actually think this film is capable of cracking the Top 500 but not by much; I do not see this film entering the Top 400. I admire the portrayal of a gay relationship in this film but I don’t really think that’s a major contributor to why the film is “great,” per se, unless you want to talk about the comparisons between Tony Leung’s and Leslie Cheung’s characters, how their lifestyles are compared in the film through cinematic style which I think is very strongly done, especially towards the end. On the subject of this film towards the end, it takes a while for it to truly get strong. It’s not really until a montage at 58 minutes in that this film is truly able to drag itself out of the grave of HR and reorient itself towards MS territory; in fact, I might even go as far as to say the last 40 minutes of this film are so strong that they’re dragged down by the relatively stylistically weak first hour (though there are a few black-and-white landscape shots in the segment where they break up for the first time that I really like). I’m going to agree with Drake for now and say this film is overrated; #332 is a bit too high and that ranking actually places this as his #3 film and I have it at #7.
Most Underrated: Technically As Tears Go By is lower than The Grandmaster on the all-time list, but as the former film was recently included in the World of Wong Kar-Wai boxset by the Criterion Collection, I’m sure it will start to go up which is why I am using this spot for the latter film which was left out. The Grandmaster is an underrated film at #2385 all-time, if not egregiously so for a film from the 2010s. I actually don’t fault Drake at all for initially rating this one as a Recommend; the first 30-40 minutes of this film really aren’t all that strong and it seems to balance itself between R and R/HR, with a few nice shots to suggest that the film may be a HR by the end of the runtime but I didn’t have a lot of hope. Then Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi fight eachother and the film just takes off! Up until this point there wasn’t really much resemblance to his previous films – excepting perhaps Ashes of Time – and I wasn’t sure about the fight scenes which didn’t really fall into his oeuvre; I liked them a lot more from this point forward. There’s a great scene visually in this film where Leung and Ziyi that could have come right out of Days of Being Wild or one of the nighttime scenes in In the Mood for Love and another moment where WKW borrows from Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible with a long line of people walking that I think is very beautiful, and he’s not the only Russian who inspires WKW here; the film’s ending, with the camera tracking through some Buddha statues is clearly inspired by Andrei Rublev. If I had to pick a single favorite scene, I’d probably say the train station fight between Ziyi and Ma San which is probably the strongest scene in the film on a cinematic level; looking back on it I see a bit of the opening fight in Rumble Fish in this scene with its usage of smoke. There are flaws, particularly the first act of the film which is weak in comparison to the rest of the film and its explicitly (much of the film is defined by historical events and its time period) historical setting – not to mention being a martial arts film – doesn’t match up well with the rest of WKW’s oeuvre, and while one may say that many of his previous works took place in the 1960s, they weren’t really grounded in that decade; they feel absolutely devoid of actual time and place, and this film is not. Regardless of that discrepancy, this is a really strong film and if WKW’s next film is on a similar level, I’m not sure he can still really be considered the “master” he once was, but he’ll still be a great filmmaker.
Gem I want to spotlight: As Drake hasn’t yet seen it, I’m going to pick As Tears Go By, WKW’s debut, as the gem I want to spotlight. This film is often said to be a remake of Mean Streets from Scorsese, and given that WKW mentioned in an interview with Scorsese about The Grandmaster that he is WKW’s hero, this film must have been at least strongly influenced by Mean Streets for the two to be so similar. This film borrows from Scorsese’s film down to the point of including a fight set at a billiards hall, the lead entering a romance with his cousin, and, most importantly of course, catapulting one of our greatest filmmakers into success. Not unlike Mean Streets the production values are clearly much lower than any of WKW’s other films; it is very obvious that this film is made on a low budget and that weakens the film a lot as it is easily his weakest film in a visual level, and there are still a number of shots in this film that show strength as one would expect from WKW; I think there is clear evidence in this film that he would be able to make superior works of art with more money, as he indeed did. I didn’t catch a huge amount of it – I may well not have been looking hard enough – but there is actually some form here; at one point in this film, Andy Lau threatens to blow a guy’s balls off and then finds himself in the same position. On top of that, he is always having to save Jacky Cheung from getting in trouble (he smashes the antagonists’s car with a propane canister and then he gets it thrown back on him) and the repetition in the final scene (which I will not talk about) is of course formal. I actually think this one strikes a balance between a HR and a HR/MS up until that ending scene when it jumps up to a MS but barely; if you or anyone else wants to say this is lower than my ranking I will not argue over it. Andy Lau is pretty good in the Keitel role and it’s a bit disappointing that he stopped collaborating with WKW past Days of Being Wild but I won’t lose sleep over it.
I should note to everyone that WKW’s criminally-underrated Ashes of Time is currently on Amazon Prime, though Google won’t tell you that for some reason. I urge you all to watch it.
@Zane- Marvelous work here- just a note that please back this up somewhere else- all of these comments may disappear as I finish up some behind the scenes stuff on the site– hopefully I’ll be posting new pages again soon as of June 1 or close- but in the mean time all of these comments may be temporary unfortunately.
@Zane – nicely done, I did a complete watch through of WKW recently myself as I purchased the Criterion Box Set and enjoyed every second. As Tears Go By was quite a treat, it has some similarities to a John Woo film crossed with Mean Streets. Very enjoyable and probably the best starting point for anyone new to WKW along with Chungking Express. It’s definitely more conventional in plot and structure than his later films.
Days of Being Wild was the film that really blew me away as I had only seen it once previously and it was in poor quality. Watching in 4K Blueray and that bottle-green-blue palette was memorizing. Yuddy is a fascinating character and there are many psychological layers, probably the closest thing WKW has to a character study.
@Zane great summary! From the ratings I gather WKW should be pretty high on your favorite/best director list?
So, I’ve started my journey through Wong filmography today with As Tears Go By. Previously I’ve seen only In the Mood for Love (I was fortunate to watch it for the second time, in the cinema at the beginning of the year).
– As many already mentioned, Mean Streets feels like a big influence. No argument from me there.) But it also feels more melodramatic. I have a suspicion that WKW and his partner wrote this movie as a gangster movie to get the budget. To me, he doesn’t look very interested in the gangster stuff.
– I think that Andy Lau character is not really comparable to Keitel in the Mean streets, he is as violent as Johnny Boy, his “Little brother”is a truly pathetic character. Giant fuck-up with a chip on his shoulder.
– Starts with interesting shot of multiple monitors with sky on them and blue light. A lot of the movie has this lighting. Also, the shot with monitors is repeated in the middle of the film.
– Gotta say when Maggie Cheung entered the film with the mask on, it made me go huh for a minute of two.) I think all three main actors give decent performances (although sometimes I wished Jackie Cheung would dial it down a notch).
– Cool shot from the floor of Andy Lau with TV at 5 minute mark.
– Overall fights in this movie are a bit silly. But even with a small budget, WKW is able to do some interesting things. Like a rapid montage of a fighting in the poolroom.
– At 24 minutes cool sequence going from Andy Lau with red background to POV shot entering blue lighted café with frame rate change. And a bit of disgusting egg eating.))
– Loved short tracking motion behind Maggie Cheung when she hears the sirens at 26 minutes mark.
– WKW uses POV shots and plays with frame rate several times through the film.
– WKW affair with cigarette smoke starts with his first movie.
– Blue light is dominant throughout the movie, but there are small flashes of red. Like at 32 minute at the wedding.
– Freaking loved the cut from paper plane to real one at 28 minutes mark.
– On the second thought, there is a fair amount of subdued red in the production design.
– Hidden glass felt like something characters form In the Mood for love would do.)
– Andy Lau meeting his ex in the rain. Even stronger Mood for love vibes.)
– Great scene of Maggie Cheung before the hotel stairs at 56 minutes mark. Also, she looks so young in this movie.
– You probably can guess how the movie will end from the synopsis. But WKW direction of the finale is marvelous.
– Crime stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense. Like Lau character feels to me like capo-level guy, but he doesn’t have any guys except Fly. Mind I didn’t come expecting a crime movie, I expected a WKW picture and that’s what I received.)
Overall quite solid debut. Definitely feels like WKW picture out from the gate. I would give it B- or solid R in Drake system. I think it’s a pretty good place to start if you don’t want to start with his top films.
Next stop – Days of being wild.
@Mad Mike – Interesting observations:
– your right on about it being a WKW film using a crime story set up for the background/canvass. I’m not that surprised that WKW didn’t return to crime films as you stated he isn’t really interested all that much in that aspect of this film
– Maggie Cheung indeed looks young, this is 12 years before In the Mood for Love
– WKW is always on point with his pop music selections
– Days of Being Wild is a straight up Masterpiece in my book, look forward to reading your thoughts
– Yeah, WKW is not interested in the criminal stuff per se. But he likes to use underworld in some ways. Like fight at the train station at the end of being wild and femme fatale type in Chungking Express.
-Agree, I didn’t mention it, but using a cover of Take my breath away to score the passionate kiss was really well done.
@James Trapp I think you won’t like want I have to say -haha.) I was actually underwhelmed by Days of being wild. I think the main problem for me was that WKW approach works fine when we’re talking about love without answer or not realized romances.
But for me, it wasn’t very effective when the focus was on fighting in the relationship of Yuddy and Carina Lau character. Due to WKW storytelling I’m just not invested in these characters’ relationship woes. But I could have watched more about cop and Maggie Cheung character relationship.
– The sequence of seduction of Maggie Cheung is intoxicating and pure WKW. I really enjoyed callback to it in the end. Also, there a shot of the jungle at the beginning which is repeated at the end from the train.
– WKW actively starts to use mirrors and clocks in his shots composition. I think it was largely absent in As tears go by
– For me, the main theme of this movie was unhappiness and how it spreads through people like a disease. Yuddy Mom started the cycle by giving him up, his adoptive mother continued it due to her selfishness and Yuddy continues it through his relationship with both women. Which in turn affects Cop and Yuddy’s friend.
Like a stone thrown in the water, circles continue long past the initial action.
– Several really great instance of blocking of actors bodies. Especially like Yuddy on the bed near the fan on 20 minute mark and Carine Lau character at the table at 01:07:27
– First movie with Doyle. I mostly felt it in the more creative use of angles in the movie and use of realistic lighting.
– In my opinion, Leslie Chung is a bit lacking in the charisma department to sell his character. He’s fine but nothing more. Andy Lau has stronger presence, especially when he is silent.
– Loved the scene of him standing near the booth (drake has a screenshot of it, with wellsian angle). The cut to the empty street, high angle of the booth and Lau smoking with the music. Pure cinematic bliss.
– A lot less emphasis on cigarette smoke then I expected)
– 1 hour 11 minutes Yuddy going from his mother house in slow motion – wow
– Terrific camera movement from street to the train station at 1 hour 18 minutes
– Confusing ending with the character we haven’t seen before.
Overall, it’s also B- for me or R (although closer to HR). Maybe I need more time to let it settle or another watch to appriciate this movie more.
Next stop – Ashes of Time
If I remember correctly, the guy in the ending is Tony Leung playing the character he later played in In the Mood for Love and 2046.
I can’t say a lot given the time that has passed since I last watched the movie but I disagree with you profoundly on the ranking, this is a flat-out masterpiece.
If I were taking notes I’d mention a lot more beautiful shots since there were wayyyyyyy more great looking shots in the film than you imply here, let’s not forget this is a WKW film.
I do have to disagree on the Leslie Cheung performance, I for one thought it perfectly fit the kind of asshole character he is in the movie, maybe you’ll understand his character more when you watch Happy Together but for me I think this trademark-WKW detached male character is very well-executed here.
I actually mostly agree with you on the Andy Lau performance, very hard to choose between this or As Tears Go By for his best acting work in a WKW film (the best WKW film he starred in however would be Days by a landslide), he’s amazing in the scenes with Maggie Cheung during which I can’t remember seeing his eyes actually which added a lot to his character but it’s in the later scenes with Leslie Cheung in the Philippines I think that he rises to another level of brilliant as we see his piercing stare for the first time.
There’s a great scene around the middle of the film as Maggie Cheung is walking around with Andy Lau as we get a formal callback to the beginning of the film as Leslie Cheung mentions the time they met, I can’t remember if that’s exactly what happens but it was an incredible formal moment expressed through a staggering montage, can’t see how you seem to have missed that.
Time is such a major theme in this film, there’s a lot of talk about time and shots of clocks and the like in this film like the one I just mentioned, the film has “days” in the title and there’s a clock on the release poster.
The film becomes a masterpiece for me when Leslie Cheung pulls out the gun and kills the gangsters (am I remembering that right) in the Philippines, Wong Kar-Wai goes ballistic with his camera movement in that scene, reminds me a lot of a Mikhail Kalatozov movie or of the chase opening in Chungking Express.
Altogether I don’t think I can say much more than that, but a R, I’m sorry but that’s a miss by like a mile, this film is a masterpiece in my book, I’ll let @James Trapp add anything if he wants to.
@Mad Mike @Zane
Appreciate both of you sharing your thoughts. Here are a few of my own.
I agree with Zane on the Leslie Cheung performance, I think he nails the role. It’s a brilliant character study, I love the opening scene as we watch Yuddy open a bottle of Coke and march up to Maggie Cheung’s characters with boundless confidence and swagger, the whole one minute speech, he’s a classic charmer. We gradually come to see little cracks in his character’s self-assurance. His vulnerability is slowly leaked over the course of the film, and we see of course it comes primarily through the situation with his adopted mother and his need to seek out love from his birth mother; to which he will go to any extremes. Wong Kar Wai films are often about unrequited love, but I found the scene of Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) walking away to be possibly the most heartbreaking scene in any WKW film. It explains much of his treatment of women.
The use of clocks as a motif is absolutely brilliant. Almost every WKW film features characters longing for the past or looking to the future. The film is set in 1960 yet feels timeless as I could have just as easily believed it was set in the 1990s (when it actually came out).
Similar to In the Mood for Love (2000) much of the film feels as if it is set in enclosed spaces; hallways, small apartment rooms, etc. When Yuddy goes to the Philippines it initially feels like he’s headed toward new opportunities and open spaces. But shortly after his biological mother rejects any possible involvement in his life he is back in a dark cramped apartment. The reference to a bird with no legs who is forced to spend his entire life flying is brilliant and very WKW.
Love the jungle shots and just the entire color palette. Does any director do scenes in the rain better than WKW?
To me a definitive Masterpiece and only behind In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express in the WKW filmography.
@James Trapp Thanks for your thoughts! 100% agree about timelessness of his movies and that’s great observation about space/opportunities and back to cramped apartment.
I also loved how Andy Lau characters cuts him off when he starts talking about the bird.)
@Zane Haha, this is kind of reaction I expected.) That fair! I should probably mention that when I say that it’s R closer to HR for me, I’m talking about only my opinion. I’m not insisting that the movie should be rated lower here or the consencus is wrong.
I have no problem with you saying it’s a masterpice. Totaly can see and respect this position. I just mentioned why it didn’t work for me the same way and things about the movie that I did enjoy.
– Yeah, it’s definetly Tony Leung on imdb it’s mentioned that – The film was supposed to be the first part of a project. But due to its relatively poor performance at the box office when it was first released, the producers decided not to finish the second part. The nameless character that appears in the last scene played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is supposedly the main character in the second part.
– About beatiful shots, yep there are more but as you rightly mentioned it’s WKW picture.) I didn’t try to imply that the shots or sequences that I mentioned are the only intresting ones. It just the ones that I liked the most.
– To clarify Leslie Chung is fine playing the asshole. I just don’t think he has enough charisma to hold the screen in more contemplative moments.
– Hmm, maybe you mean the moment when the cop mentiones that she needs to forget this guy has starting this minute and there is a quite nice cut to the clock?
– Actualy, Leslie knives a guy. After that during a fight Andy shots several people.
Yeah you’re good man. I mean with Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River I watched it for the first time like a year ago? Can’t remember exactly but I’d probably retrospectively give it an R based on that viewing. Then I find this site and see Drake has it listed as a MP, so I watch it again in December and I, too, found it to be a MP despite the viewings only being separated by some 6 months. I do hope that one day, something similar will happen to you with Days of Being Wild.
@Zane Thanks, I also hope that this opinion of the movie will change! Yours and James Trapp thoughtful replies certainly help in that regard.) In the meantime, I will continue to share my unpopular opinions on WKW movies – haha))
Actually, I’m a very big fan of the book Mystic River. That thing wrecked me. And I rate it as a masterpiece. Haven’t watched a movie yet.
Ashes of time:
– I think it feels a bit redundant to say about WKW movies, but Ashes is one good-looking film. And I think that most cinephiles think about WKW as poet of urban life, so it was an interesting change of pace to watch him work with rural environment.
– If I understand correctly, it’s a prequel to the famous wuxia novel “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” that came completely from the mind of WKW.
– I gotta confess that I was confused by the plot and character relationship’s for the first 40 or so. But gradually it became clear. Basically it’s collections of stories about relationships between these characters with the unrealized love theme. Almost every one loves someone with whom they cannot be. Thematically, it fits nicely in the WKW body of work.
– Golden yellow color motif, throughout the movie. Also, WKW actively uses water.
– Nice use of shadows from the cages (I think that they are bird cages, but could be mistaken). To show characters being trapped by their desires.
– Great shots of Muron Yang profile with the desert in the background.
– Frankie Chan and Roel A. García music nicely compliments the images.
– There are many beautiful or interesting shots in the movie. But my favorite is shot the stone thrown in the water at 35 minutes.
– As usual, WKW is not interested in building action setpieces. His action is more expressionistic. Like the shot of blowing sand in the middle of blind swordsman fight against bandits.
Overall, another solid B- or simple recommend in my humble opinion.
@Zane James Trapp. Also, wanted to mention that after thinking about Days of Being Wild for several days (Yuddy walking away in slow motion and sequences of cop final goodbye with Maggie Chung, just refused to leave my head) I’m already thinking higher about that at the time of my initial writing.)
– Great dream like opening following the Blond. Terrific combination of frame rate manipulation and perspective. My favorite touch was closing red curtain before the reveal of the movie title.
– Takeshi Kaneshiro chasing the guy with the paper bag on the head. Wonderfully absurd.
– Love the use of the freeze-frame use of the blond and Kaneshiro voiceover. Smartly repeated for the transition to the second story.
– I think it’s the most charming and energetic movie that WKW made.
– Really nice frame within the frame at 19 minutes and great shot of Cop 223 in the front of the store.
– At 21 minutes, great overhead shot during the chase.
– I knew that WKW used two DPs for this movie, but due to similarities of style, I assumed that they both worked on both stories. But apparently, the first one was mostly shot by Andrew Lau and the second by Doyle.
– Love the use of Dutch angle at 25 minutes mark during Cop 223 desperate calls. Nicely underlines the mood.
– I missed it during my watch, but now going through the movie at 17 minutes, we can see Faye Wong character going from the store with toy Garfield.
– WKW is as always on point with music choices. California Dreaming, What a difference a Day Makes and cover of Dreams by Cranberries (probably my favorite music drop is right before end credits).
– WKW doesn’t actively use cutaway shots of clocks here, But there was at least one, at the beginning.
– I love how cop 663 is isolated at 46 minutes within a frame when he talks about his girlfriend leaving him.
– I think that all 3 main players did a good job. I feel Brigitte Lin character works mostly due to how WKW shoots her and her general style ( credit to costume designers William Chang and Hui-Ming Yao)
– Interesting how WKW again uses underworld in his stories.
– WKW turns cop 663 drinking coffee to eternity at 56 minutes when he thinks about the letter.
– Tony Leung dialogues with the stuff in his apartment are funny and poignant at the same time. I really appreciated that his sadness in this movie has quite a different flavor from his character In the Mood for Love.
– I think it’s interesting that if I’ve seen the Faye Wong behavior in the Hollywood rom-com without WKW flair and Hong-Kong setting, I would probably feel that it was really grating rom-com silliness. Here it works.
– Café at 1 hour 21 minutes, lighted by candles. Just magical
– One of the few WKW romances with a hopeful ending.
Really enjoyed this one. I think it’s a great place to start if you are a young cinephile who wants to branch out from the Hollywood mainstream.
I think it’s almost I must see movie for me, but I’m not quite there yet, If everything goes well I will be able to watch this movie again in August on the big screen. Maybe it will help me to move it to a higher level.
@Mad Mike- Thanks for sharing this. I just rewatched it myself not long ago and should have a page for the film soon.
@Drake, Oh cool. Are you doing the WKW study, or you just wanted to rewatch it?
@Mad Mike- At this point just Chungking Express- it came up on one of my random generators which certainly made me happy
@Mad Mike – Great notes, I am watching this again on Sunday with my family, will share some additional thoughts then, this was my 1st WKW film and still my favorite (although ITMFL is probably objectively the best). Curious what you think of Fallen Angels as it is a companion piece whose story line was initially supposed to be part of Chungking Express. Crazy to think WKW essentially made Chungking in his “spare time” while editing Ashes of Time. I think you are on point regarding Faye Wong, and I think it’s difficult to translate Chungking to American rom coms. For me that’s one of the things that makes Chungking magical, it’s style and atmosphere can’t really be adequately transferred to an American film. The only current American actress that I think can play that sort of character would be maybe Jennifer Lawrence.
@James Trapp So how your re-watch went?) I will be rewatching Express at the start of August. There will be a special screening of criterion restoration.
Great point about Lawrence! I agree that she could carry this type of character, but without WKW flair I think it destined to fail. Or you need some other strong elements to make it work.
I’ve actually finished WKW filmography a couple of weeks earlier. But due to work, I cannot find a time to leave a comment.
Fallen angels, is an interesting companion to Express. I’m glad that WKW decided to make killer story a separate movie because I think Chunking Express would leave a bit different aftertaste.
Couple of stray thoughts:
– Overall I liked how both stories intersected and the finale meeting of Kaneshiro character and agent felt like a great way to close the story.
– WKW again uses crime elements in a very WKW fashion.)
– Unsurprisingly, his shootouts are stylish as hell. And actually more coherent that I expected. Maybe there is a parallel universe where WKW is an author of sleek Hong Kong crime movies with a lot of flying doves?)))
– I think that camera was more active here than in previous WKW movies. Felt that there was a lot of a small movement.
– It’s certainly beautiful, but I felt that it was more impressive than beautiful if that makes sense.
– A lot of interesting blocking and angles. Great scene and counter-scene when agent masturbates on bed and WKW repeats it. At the beginning you think she’s at it again, but no, she’s really crying.
– I had a slight problem with blond character in a killer storyline. I felt that here presence brought a disbalance to this storyline. Also, the segment with Kaneshiro character and his girlfriend was a bit tiring. Two such hyperactive eccentric characters. But thankfully it wasn’t long.
– For me, it’s a mid-tier WKW movie. Although I will be surprised if Drake doesn’t upgrade it at least to HR on a rewatch.
@Mad Mike –
The re-watch was great. I had to pause a few times and explain to them not to put too much effort into following the plot and figuring out questions like “who does the woman in the blond wig work for?” But they enjoyed it, always fun showing films of directors you love to other people who would otherwise never come across it.
Your definitely right about Chungking not working the same with the story from Fallen Angels. It has a similar style but is darker and would feel a little too disjointed if it were thrown in as the 3rd story of Chungking. And it would have dragged a little too much (there’s a reason 1 ½ hours work well for WKW films)
I think your point about having 2 as you put it “hyperactive eccentric characters” being a little much is totally fair as much as I loved Fallen Angels. It is in some ways Chungking on steroids with the shootouts and the spectacular visuals in the motorcycle scenes and really the whole film using wide angel lenses, changing speeds, freeze frames and everything else in the WKW arsenal.
Like Chungking, it focuses a great deal on relationships and confronting that all relationships with people will eventually come to an end. WKW seems to put his characters into a place where they have to confront this fatalistic viewpoint, like Cop 223’s obsession with expiration dates of pineapple cans and his and his ex-girlfriends love “expiring”.
I love the scene where the hitman runs into an ex-classmate who starts talking his faceoff and the hitman shows a (fake) photo of his “wife” and “kid”. Hilarious scene and interesting that the hitman who is a fairly anti-social person feels the need to explain himself, although you probably should not over analyze character motivations in WKW films.
Due to the time passed, I lost an inspiration to post notes about leftover movies. So I will share my personal WKW rating:
1. In the Mood for Love
2. Chunking Express
4. Days of Being Wild
5. Fallen Angels
7. As Tears Go By
8. Ashes of Time
9. Happy Together
10. My Blueberry Nights
@Mad Mike- thanks for sharing- ahh- every time I come to My Blueberry Nights I hope I was flat wrong the previous time- haha.
@Drake -Yeah, and I don’t think it’s completely devoid of merit. It’s interesting to see WKW work so far from home, and Strathairn gives a wonderful performance.
But something is off. It feels like some western director attempt at WKW movie. I think it’s safe to skip if you are not a completionist.
Hey @Mad Mike- how are ya?
So by highly recommend here, you mean @Drake’s version of it?
@M*A*S*H – Hi, I’m good. Thanks for asking.)
Yeah, I’ve tried to convert them to Drakes system. I’m still struggling with the best way to use ratings here. I don’t want to use mine because you have to explain them.
On the other hand, I’m a bit reluctant to use Drake system because I think people will assume that I use the same criteria as Drake. And I’m more about narrative and my personal emotional reaction to the movie than visuals and aesthetics.
I’m thinking about not using grades here at all, but I think it’s a quiet convenient indicator about your relationship with a movie and a good starting point for the conversation.
Yikes Mike…. Someones a tough critic.
Honestly the more I think about his ranking the more I think he’s a bit confused about the Cinema Archives ranking system and is using the TSPDT Guide system (where HR refers to a masterpiece or very high must-see and a R is a must-see or highly recommend on here) but I really have no idea.
In my opinion both Tony & Maggie are the performance of the year in what I believe to be is the greatest film in the history of cinema (yeah my most recent viewing did it for me). Partially it’s because no other film in Cinema history uses the film-form better than this. I don’t wanna sound harsh but everything else looks like a play in it’s comparison. It’s one of those rare instances where all the forms of art that combine to make a movie, came together so perfectly and formed a symphony so deep that it’s hard for a callow person like me to praise. It portrays such sophistication, such longing, such melancholy (adjectives I’ve come 2 associate with Chinese/HK/ Taiwanese cinema).
It’s the best use of color in the history of cinema. To display the inner feelings of the characters. The montages & music (just like the use of music in chungking express) are hypnotic. Major achievement in cinematography.
My favorite moment in cinema has to be the “lipstick stained ciggarette”. That’s the only kiss they share. Maggie puts the half smoked ciggarette in her mouth. When Tony sees it, he knows she was here. It’s an earth shattering moment in cinema history. It broke my heart.
Maggie is exceptional in one of the all time great performances, her pride is her honestly, her righteousness. She’ll never trade it for anything else. Her backbone deserves an award of it’s own for representing the sense of pride she has. The next time I watch this movie I’ll keep an eye on her posture when she’s trying to compromise & swallow her pride for the love she feels for Tony.
Her heart is too small for her to bury all the feelings she has for Tony, so her eyes leaks them. When she tries to suppress the “effect of suppression of her love” ,monumental moments of acting are created. It’s good to see such a great performance in such a great film, by a woman, as thats rarely the case. Tony is every bit her equal.
I love how we never know, that their supposes are cheating. It’s just a presumption, it can be wrong. They happen to be alone at the same time. And they are lonely all the time. They bond over their loneliness.
They bury their dirty secret inside their hearts, Tony also whispers it in a hollow hole filling it with twigs. They are changed people now. Thier effect on each other was intangible.
@MASH- I love this. Thanks for sharing
Have you seen as tears go by , his debut film. I’ve heard gr8 things about it. If yes, what do you think about it. Also is it a worthy watch?
@MASH- I have not- but on the 1988 page @Matt Harris has some pretty high praise for it and that is good enough for me most of the time. Anyways, it is a blind spot that I haven’t seen it so maybe I’ll pair it with 2046 before the end of September when 2046 leaves the criterion streaming platform.
Are you still planning to do this? I don’t mean to hog you about it but I really do think you should.
@Zane- I was able to get to these two- yes.
I hate to bug you like this constantly but The Grandmaster is streaming on STARZ at the moment.
@Zane- No worries- it certainly does not bug me- The Grandmaster is not one I have had a hard time locating like some other films
As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild should have switched titles. They are basically perfect for each other. The constant fighting and recklessness of the young characters in As Tears Go By which is WKW Mean Streets what better name could there be than Days of Being Wild? Would have been the perfect title and for the melancholy vibe of Days of Being Wild with Yuddy breaking he hearts of multiple young ladies As Tears Go By would have been the perfect title.
@James Trapp- this is solid gold
I love his work so much.
[…] 22. Kar-Wai Wong […]
Top 10 performances in Wong Kar Wai films
1. Maggie Cheung – in the mood for love
2. Tony Leung – in the mood for love
3. Faye Wong – Chungking express
4. Zhang Ziyi – 2046
5. Tony Leung- Chungking express
6. Maggie Cheung- days of being wild
7. Tony Leung- 2046
8. Tony Leung- happy together
9. Zhang ziyi – the grandmaster
10. Maggie Cheung- as tears go by
@M*A*S*H – solid list but where is Leslie Cheung as Yuddy in Days of Being Wild? It’s a complex role, initially he just comes off as an immature playboy, but he’s a deeply wounded character due to rejection from his biological mother and a love/hate relationship with his adopted mother.
I really love Takeshi Kaneshiro in Chungking, obviously he isn’t the caliber of actor that Tony Leung is (few are) but I really love the performance; he takes that wacky character to even further extremes in Fallen Angel but I think his performance in Chungking is clearly supeior.
Days of Being Wild MS
Ashes of Time HR
Chungking Express MP
Fallen Angels HR
Happy Together MS
In the Mood For Love MP
The Grandmaster R