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Wong Kar-Wai

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Wong Kar-Wai was born in 1958 in Shanghai. By the time Wong was five years old, his parents decided to relocate to Hong Kong. The two older children were meant to join them later, but the borders closed before they had a chance and Wong did not see his brother or sister again for ten years. As a youth, Wong was frequently taken to the cinema by his mother and exposed to a variety of films. He later said: "The only hobby I had as a child was watching movies". At school he was interested in graphic design and earned a diploma in the subject from Hong Kong Polytechnic in 1980.

Starting out as a scriptwriter he shunned the formulaic conventions that afflicted much of Hong Kong cinema at the time and helped to reinvigorate the industry. He became more and more experimental, finding his feet once he started a fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Together they consolidated Wong's famous style turning his films into stunning, neon-drenched reveries using a step-printing process, which allowed them to slow certain sequences down, to dazzling effect. As a director, he feels his way to the very heart of his stories, relying on instinct rather than scripts, and in doing so captivates the soul.

Few other directors can convey the pain and suffering of love quite as seductively as Wong Kar-Wai. His films are breathtaking symphonies composed of those unspoken emotions and hidden desires that we conceal deep inside of ourselves. They're stories of doomed romances that unravel languidly featuring loners, dreamers and the heartbroken.

The main challenge for the uninitiated is that Wong is not driven by action or even plot but by his characters' own thoughts; haunted by the past, they ruminate endlessly on love, memory and time. For those that fall under his hypnotic spell, his work is utterly enthralling, but for those unfamiliar with him, they could start off wondering if there's enough happening to keep their attention.

You see, he's often transfixed by the smallest details – smoke swirling towards the ceiling or a reflection shimmering in a puddle – and he prefers his drama to be understated. Wong's multi-narrative, non-linear storylines delight in jumping around restlessly. All of this requires patience but for those who have it, they'll be richly rewarded.

Wong's crowning glory and a must-see film is In the Mood for Love. An exquisite masterpiece, it's one of the most poignant films about lost love in cinema history. Paul McGuigan, a worldwide renown director, told about the film. 'I'm a bit nervous about this. Talking about something so amazingly great and so beautiful, and whether it's reflective of my own work…"

"In the Mood for Love is a visual poem," says McGuigan. "The cinematography is astounding." It certainly is. Doyle has a remarkable gift for framing a shot and is unafraid to break the rules. Characters often face the "wrong" way, looking out of the frame; in a conversation between two characters, one will be held in a steady, lingering shot, while the other is invisible in the next room. Scenes are frequently shot through windows, or vertical bars, or screens, or doorways, or from under a bed. Moving shadows and curling wisps of cigarette smoke are frequent motifs.

"The way that Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle shoot a scene makes you think about other things, not just the conversation that's going on. As a filmmaker, watching that sort of thing inspires you to do something other than just recording what's in front of you.

"Shooting through things? Yeah, I do that a lot now, if you look at my work. I'm not comparing myself to Wong Kar Wai; what I do is not as cerebral as that. But I do try to create frames that way. I love foreground; I love shooting through things; I love not seeing people. So, I take a lot from Wong Kar Wai."

Another unlikely parallel between the work of the two directors is their use of wallpaper in their set design. The rooms in In the Mood for Love are wonderfully atmospheric in a subdued, claustrophobic sort of way, the characters seemingly imprisoned by their environment. It helps you to understand the world of the people you're watching. In Wong Kar Wai's film, they dress to complement the wallpaper, or sometimes to contrast with it.

The plot of In the Mood for Love is deceptively simple. A man and a woman move into adjoining flats, and a friendship develops between them as they begin to suspect both their spouses of being unfaithful. Their feelings, however, are held agonizingly in check by the rules of propriety - rules, it would seem, that are being willfully ignored by their errant partners. In many ways, Wong's film is an oriental Brief Encounter. Most of the assignations between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are filled with tension and uncertainty. There is passion but seemingly no joy: we see them smiling together only once.

All this is conveyed with extraordinarily deft and subtle visual touches. Added to which are two central performances that are bewitchingly convincing. Before shooting began, Wong told his actors that they would express themselves primarily not through dialogue, but through gestures, glances and body language. It's an approach that works brilliantly.

"This is a love story," says McGuigan, "but they're always talking about things they don't really care about. This guy just wants to tell her that he loves her, but he can't. There are so many things not being said in the dialogue that are being said in the visuals. It's an amazing feat. There's a memorable scene where Maggie Cheung sits down at a table to play cards, and all we see is her back and the way she's sitting: it's so elegant and beautiful." Which brings us to a final surprising admission: "Maggie Cheung's dresses - every one's a classic," says McGuigan. "There's a new one in every scene, and usually that would be insignificant, but, with Wong Kar Wai, it means something.

"I love that in a movie, where you can watch it over and over again, and there are so many layers of meaning and understanding. In the Mood for Love is a great film: the sort of thing you can talk about for days."

Vocabulary

  • admission - a statement acknowledging the truth of something
  • assignation - an assignation is a secret meeting with someone, especially with a lover.
  • doomed - someone or something that is doomed is certain to fail or be destroyed.
  • encounter - an encounter with someone is a meeting with them, particularly one that is unexpected or significant.
  • errant - is used to describe someone whose actions are considered unacceptable or wrong by other people. For example, an errant husband is unfaithful to his wife.
  • finding his feet - if you say that someone is finding his feet in a new situation, you mean that he is starting to feel confident and to deal with things successfully.
  • formulaic - if you describe a way of saying or doing something as formulaic, you are criticizing it because it is not original and has been used many times before in similar situations.
  • haunt - be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind)
  • languid - if you describe someone as languid, you mean that they show little energy or interest and are very slow and casual in their movements.
  • poignant - something that is poignant affects you deeply and makes you feel sadness or regret.
  • reinvigorate - give new energy or strength to
  • reverie - a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream
  • ruminate - think deeply about something
  • shun - if you shun someone or something, you deliberately avoid them or keep away from them.
  • transfix - if you are transfixed by something, it captures all of your interest or attention, so that you are unable to think of anything else or unable to act.
  • understated - presented or expressed in a subtle and effective way
  • uninitiated - without special knowledge or experience

Sources of information was used for preparing this article:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. BFI
  3. The Telegraph

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