No one interprets yearning and ill-fated love with the visual vividness or emotional range of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai.
The celebrated 62-year-old is revered for his flourishes of sensual imagery – a lover’s hand tending lustfully to the skin of a new and willing lover, the symbolism of a cascading waterfall – and his heartrending stories of romances interrupted.
Because he creates such highly sensory cinematic experiences, viewers won’t passively sit down to watch a Wong movie, they’ll become caressed, seduced and entranced by them.
His work, though, needs preservation and protection. Luckily, Janus Films’ touring retrospective led to pristine 4K restorations of seven of his best-known titles: “In the Mood for Love,” “As Tears Go By,” “Days of Being Wild,” “Chungking Express,” “Fallen Angels, ”“ Happy Together ”and“ The Hand. ”
Since audiences are unable to view these masterworks on majestic movie screens – where they belong – the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco’s Roxie Theater are inviting Bay Area movie fans to watch these cinematic treasures from the comfort of their home, as part of the Virtual Cinema series.
The Pacific Film Archive will also be showing “Ashes of Time” and “2046.” The retrospective, accessible at both venues’ websites, runs through Feb. 25. Don’t miss out.
Here’s a look at five features from this outstanding series.
“In the Mood for Love”: Frequent Wong acting collaborators Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai are luminous as 1960s next-door neighbors whose partners are having an affair. Rarely has unrequited love been portrayed with such aching clarity as Wong’s 2000 film. Lush cinematography, along with close-ups of hands desperate for human connection – are some of his cinematic trademarks, along with clocks declaring the imminent passage of time and drop-dead gorgeous costumes. All of these elements help create a heartrending portrait of muted passion that’s been cast in the shadows of adulterous lovers. It’s a timeless film with a surprising finale that adds context.
“Days of Being Wild”: Shot and set in Hong Kong and the Philippines in the ’60s, Wong’s tragic tale of a hellbent-for-destruction lothario named Yuddy (the late, great Leslie Cheung), the women who fall for him and the men who want to be him is classic Wong, with “one-minute friends” becoming lovers and then exes. “Wild,” released in 1990, delves into buried family secrets, fragile male egos and the need for identity. All that and numerous shots of rainstorms set the stage for infatuations that often go sour. “Wild” is as unpredictable as its lovers, an absorbing drama with stunning imagery from Wong’s go-to cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
“Chungking Express”: Wong’s most playful feature is built around breakups and break-ins. Part noir and part romance, it’s undeniably a Wong production. The film follows two heartbroken cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and their new potential love interests – a blond-wigged gangster (Brigitte Lin) and a snoopy food vendor (Faye Wong). An effective soundtrack – which includes The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Drhttps: //youtu.be/Bjd7PFf_TFweamin ‘,’ ‘a cover by Faye Wong of The Cranberries’“ Dreams ”and Dinah Washington’s most appropriate“ What a Diff’rence a Day Makes ”- heightens the mood. It’s a perfect little pick-me-up when you’re feeling down.
“Happy Together”: Wong rattled audiences with this one. He tapped two titans of Asian cinema, Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, to portray squabbling gay lovers who are barely making do in Buenos Aires in a film full of raw sexuality. Hong Kong censors in 1997 didn’t care much for that. Wong’s damning parable on the need for connection in your homeland is a stunner, shifting from B&W to color as the couple gets waylaid on a trip to Iguazu Falls. It’s one of the best gay-themed features ever made, with two electrifying performances. Sadly, Cheung – who came out about his own same-sex relationship the year the film was released – died by suicide in 2003.
“The Hand”: Critics weren’t kind when “Eros,” a 2004 bundling of three short films that flirted with desire, came out. The exception was Wong’s highly sexual “The Hand,” and the extended version in this series is one of the most erotic films I’ve ever seen. Gong Li stars as a ’60s-era in-demand courtesan who is holed up in the swanky Palace Hotel where she meets “suitors.” When a handsome young tailor (Chang Chen) drops by to take her measurements for elegant gowns, she educates him on sexual pleasure. Not inherently explicit, the short film seduces us in every way, from the costuming to the beautiful leads to the breathtaking intimacy, particularly when Chen caresses a gown like it’s his lover.
Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]
THE FILMS OF WONG KAR-WAI
Retrospective offered via Virtual Cinema series, available at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and Roxie Theater
Tickets: $ 12 per screening; bampfa.org, www.roxie.com