Wong Kar-wai’s films have brought wider attention to Hong Kong Cinema; he has been able to rise above his national identity and excel beyond the pulp-fiction limitations of genre that seem to tie down much of oriental Cinema. His critical recognition denotes a mutual acceptance and absorption of East and West mirroring Hong Kong as a city of two co-existing cultures…
Ashes of Time is a highly stylised tale loosely based on four characters from a Wuxia novel. The film is substantial and more complex in scope and depth than any of Kar-wai’s previous films. It is reminiscent of the experimental style and method of storytelling used in his work. However, the film is unique in the way dialogue and monologues are used to represent the art of listening and understanding. When the film opened in Hong Kong it received mixed reviews. Critics found it so elliptical that it was almost impossible to make out any semblance of a plot, something very rare in a Wuxia film.
Ashes of Time was not very successful at the box office, but this did not deter Kar-wai from going ahead immediately with his next production, Fallen Angels (1995), a film that seemed to follow the quirky tradition of Chungking Express. Fallen Angels was released in 1995, a year after Ashes of Time.
Of all Kar-wai’s projects, film, In the Mood for Love (2000) is his most complex achievement.
Kar-wai’s next project was Happy Together (1997), a story about exile and the strained search of satisfying love. Cheung and Leung play two gay men who go as far as Argentina to resuscitate an affair. Happy Together is a story about exile and separation; the more the protagonist’s desire to stay away from Hong Kong, the closer they feel. Both characters are escaping from the contemporary reality of Hong Kong in 1997 by depositing themselves in another time and space. The film itself is a protest about time in which it is reset. It was a milestone for Kar-wai’s career as it won the Palme d’Or for Best Director that year.
Of all Kar-wai’s projects, film, In the Mood for Love (2000) is his most complex achievement. He had referred in interviews back in 1997, that he was working on a story called ‘Summer in Beijing’; however the project was soon abandoned. At some point during the process, the project transmuted into a futuristic story about Beijing and was given a new title, 2046 (released in 2004). Thus, In the Mood for Love became a separate project that evolved out of unfinished ones. The film forms part of an informal trilogy which started with Days of Being Wild and ended with 2046.
The powerful interpretation of the characters added a dimension of complexity to what might have been a mundane story about marital infidelity…
The connection with Kar-wai’s second film is emphasised by Maggie Cheung’s appearance. The Chinese title literally translates as ‘the age of blossoms’ which is a Chinese metaphor for the fleeting time of youth, beauty and love. The story rotates around marriage, the premise of fidelity, coming together and breaking apart. The powerful interpretation of the characters added a dimension of complexity to what might have been a mundane story about marital infidelity; however, the actors rose to the occasion despite the challenge, conveying the subtleties of their roles beautifully. With exceptional cinematography, the story portrayed transmits to us another state of mind; reality overcomes us, as our imagination betrays us and we are not spared by the actual sensation of change.
Images courtesy of Fallen Angel, Happy Together, In The Mood For Love and Ashes Of Time