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Guide to Wong Kar-wai’s Films

Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar-wai has been prolific for his unique visual style and applauded as an auteur for many of his renowned films not only locally but also internationally. An important figure in contemporary cinema, particularly as a versatile director, he is considered as one of the best directors from the Hong Kong cinematic wave and even, in his generation.

His works have been influenced by other directors including Quentin Tarantino, Lee Myung-se and Barry Jenkins. Wong hears his crown as an avant-garde filmmaker, tackling narratives that explore romance, heartbreak and family whilst maintaining his style of focus on expression, emotion, mood, colors and intersecting storylines.

Wong’s style include not having an actual script, working with the same actors for almost all his films (including working with cinematographer, Christopher Doyle for many of his films and most of his actors are renowned East Asian actors), focus on tone, atmosphere and mood, narratives about romance and use of light.

1. As Tears Go By

Synopsis: Small-time gangster, Wah (Andy Lau) deals with debt collection and often looks after his gang “brother”, Fly (Jacky Cheung) who always causes trouble which ultimately leads both of them into bigger trouble. Wah is also in love with his cousin, Ngor (Maggie Cheung).

Cast: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung

Release: 1988

Themes: Action, Brotherhood, Romance

Points of Interest:

  • Kar-wai’s debut film shows him at infancy stage.
  • Cheung and Lau’s passionate scene in the phone booth.
  • Lau and Jacky Cheung’s bromance.

2. Days of Being Wild

Synopsis: The charismatic York (Leslie Cheung) has a reputation for being a playboy, capturing your heart, only to break them afterwards. Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) falls heads over heels for him only to have her heart broken which lead her to an emotional distress. Meanwhile, York looks into his own familial troubles and why he is the way he is when it comes to relationships.

Cast: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Leslie Cheung

Release: 1990

Themes: Romance, Family

Points of Interest:

  • The first of Wong Kar-wai’s “Informal Trilogy”
  • Leslie Cheung’s charisma.
  • The wildest (and most daring) Kar-wai film I’ve seen.
  • There is so much tension and dramatic build-up in this film.

3. Chungking Express

Synopsis: Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) wishes to get over his lost love. That’s when his eyes caught Brigitte Lin‘s character, a mysterious woman in a blonde wig. Cop 663 (Tony Leung) is still hung up after his recent break-up. When his ex-girlfriend drops off his apartment keys to a waitress (Faye Wong)’s shop where 663 usually eats at, she starts to hang around his apartment.

Cast: Tony Leung, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Brigitte Lin

Release: 1994

Themes: Drama, Romance

Points of Interest:

  • Exotic colors dominate the screen while the cinematography is a combination of cris-cross, fast moving shots that explodes like a powder of euphoria all over the screen.
  • Two intertwining stories about love set in Hong Kong and sends a lot of nostalgia.
  • Tony Leung in a cop uniform.
  • Faye Wong’s dancing.

4. Fallen Angels

Synopsis: Two intertwining stories about an assassin, Wong (Leon Li) and his agent/partner (Michelle Reis) who falls in love with him. During a late night meal, Wong encounters Blondie (Karen Mok), a prostitute and the two form a connection. Meanwhile, his agent/partner lives in the same building as Ho (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who escaped from prison and is wanted by the police. Ho always runs in Charlie, whose ex-boyfriend left her for Blondie. Ho becomes her listener and he ultimately falls in love.

Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Leon Li, Karen Mok, Michelle Reis

Release: 1995

Themes: Drama, Romance, Action

Points of Interest:

  • Can be considered as a companion film to Chungking Express.
  • Takeshi Kaneshiro in a motorcycle.
  • Karen Mok’s crazy dance.
  • Leon Li in black.
  • Scenes shot in an ala-fish eye angle.

5. Happy Together

Synopsis: Arriving from Hong Kong to Argentina, lovers Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung) wishes for a better life. But faced with adapting to a new place and their eccentric relationship deteriorates into an abusive one scarred with constant break-ups and reconciliations. But things turn for the worse when Ho takes a liking to Chang (Chang Chen) who is the complete opposite of Ho. The two begin a journey far from home, far from each other and one ultimately filled with loneliness.

Cast: Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung, Chang Chen

Release: 1997

Themes: Drama, Romance

Points of Interest:

  • The most visually alluring Kar-wai film that I have ever watched.
  • Leung and Cheung’s undeniable chemistry.
  • The exotic music.
  • The combination of black-and-white and retro color tones are combined beautifully. And has great significance to the narrative.

6. In the Mood for Love

Synopsis: Mo (Tony Leung), a journalist moves in a new apartment with his wife who is always away on business. He forms a connection with his neighbor, Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) whose Japanese husband is also always away on business. The two realize that their partners are cheating on them and are apparently lovers. Slowly, they start to fall in love but not wanting to be unfaithful like his partners.

Cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Carina Lau

Release: 2000

Themes: Drama, Romance

Points of Interest:

  • BBC named this film as the 2nd best film of the century.
  • Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung’s undeniable chemistry.
  • All of Maggie Cheung’s numerous qipao dresses.
  • The dramatic tension and looks full of longing between the two.
  • The beautiful setting and cinematography (by Christopher Doyle).
  • The little details.
  • The soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi.
  • Moonlight drew some inspiration here.

7. 2046

Synopsis: The plot of writer, Chow (Tony Leung) is this: A futuristic train, is able to take is passengers somewhere they are able to recapture their memories but also a place where no one has been able to come back from. Tak (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is one of the passengers. During his lonely journey, he is accompanied by an andriod (Faye Wong) whom he falls in love with. Chow is a womanizer who has a series of relationships from women who has passed by his apartment. One of the women is Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) who reminds him of his past lover.

Cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Faye Wong,  Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau

Release: 2004

Themes: Science Fiction, Drama, Romance

Points of Interest:

  • Christopher Doyle‘s cinematography.
  • The amazing ensemble of renowned East Asian actors.
  • Zhang Ziyi’s beauty.
  • The conclusion to the “Informal Trilogy.”
  • The intertwining, non-linear narrative.
  • The soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi (again).

Not included: Ashes of Time, My Blueberry Nights and The Grandmaster.

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