18 Aug 21
The cinema of Wong Kar-wai not only deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, it actively demands it. Full of lush visuals, dream-like narratives, killer needle drops and an aching melancholy to break the hardest heart, his films have traversed different genres – period pictures, comedies, sci-fi – but all retain a singular style and recurring obsessions, creating a cohesive canon that has influenced the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola and Barry Jenkins.
The seven films in the Picturehouse reDiscover retrospective offer newbies the perfect opportunity to dive into Wong's intoxicating visions, and a chance for fans to fill in the gaps or simply revisit one of the most exciting voices in world cinema. As a filmmaker, Wong arrived almost fully formed. His debut As Tears Go By (1988) takes a standard gangster Triad plot – a mob enforcer (Andy Lau Tak-wah) is caught between his new love (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, in the first of her iconic collaborations with the director) and his unhinged partner (Jacky Cheung Hok-yau) – and invigorates the genre by combining brutal action with high style, showcasing the woozy visuals that would become his trademark.
This signature style returns in 1990's Days Of Being Wild, a hypnotic drama about disenfranchised 20-somethings drifting through '60s New York. A compendium of the director's favourite themes (time, memory, the need for connection), the film is also noteworthy for bringing two talents into Wong's orbit; actor Tony Leung, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who defined Wong's gorgeous, hallucinatory palette.
It took Wong's third film to catapult him onto the world stage. Chungking Express (1994) is the story of two lovelorn cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung) who become entangled with a mysterious drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin) and a pixie-like waitress (Faye Wong) respectively. Shot on the fly in just 23 days, it has charm and invention in spades — a use of The Mamas & The Papas California Dreamin' is sublime.
Originally intended as a segment of Chungking, Wong's next, Fallen Angels (1995), shares a similar freewheeling spirit to its predecessor, but explores a much darker world of outsiders trying to survive a neon-drenched world. If nothing else, it is a visually stunning ode to the beauty of nocturnal Hong Kong. Featuring a superstar team-up between Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, 1997's Happy Together follows a gay couple through Argentina, the trip mapping out the contours of a love story as the pair fight, make up and fall apart. Flitting between luminous black and white and highly saturated colour, it explores the red-hot passion of love in all its forms, positive and destructive.
Wong's next film, though, is his masterpiece. Set in 1962, In The Mood For Love (2000) sees the director's regular collaborators, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, play neighbours who discover their spouses are having an affair and form an intimate bond. It is at once nuanced, full of repressed desires and longing, but also visually spectacular. "In The Mood For Love, I can't even touch that film," Barry Jenkins once observed. "I've got to do this filmmaking for at least another 40 years before I even come close."
2046 is a quasi-sequel to In The Mood For Love as Leung reprises his role as writer Chow Mo-wan, whose chequered love life inspires the new futuristic novel he is working on. Part period piece, part sci-fi flick, the story hops around in time, providing space for fantasy sequences where Wong and his collaborators let their imaginations run riot. A film about the pain of heartbreak and the subsequent emotional aftermath, it does what any of Wong Kar-wai's works do best: it makes you feel deeply. Come to Picturehouse and prepare to swoon. Ian Freer
Picturehouse reDiscover's Wong Kar-wai retrospective runs from 6 August to 17 September, beginning with As Tears Go By. Discover the full line-up and book your tickets at picturehouses.com/rediscover.
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