Saturday, November 29, 2008

In the Mood for Love

My favorite parts of Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 film In the Mood For Love are the numerous slow motion sequences in which So and Chow simply pass by each other. I have always found that Wong Kar-Wai has the ability to capture intimate yet seemingly empty moments and give them a weight and eminence that may otherwise go unnoticed (if it would exist at all). Some critics have said that Wong Kar-Wai’s style is too pop, too much like an MTV music video. In some ways this could be true. He often uses a fast paced editing scheme, off kilter cinematography and highly stylized and visually contrive sets. All of these are staples of the industrialized music video industry. Indeed, it is necessary to capture the minds of millions of ADD effected preteens, tweens and teens who lack an attention span of more than a few a seconds. However, such a view fails to incorporate many of the other scenes that punctuate Wong Kar-Wai’s films. Scenes such as those intimate passings-by of So and Chow.

Take for example another of Wong Kar-Wai’s films, Chungking Express (1994). The film opens with an action packed sequence in which a drug dealer (Brigitte Lin) sets up a deal with a group of South-Asian immigrants, only be cheated and forced to hunt them down. This portion along certainly follows the MTV paradigm, however, this portion is not the entire story. It is followed by the romance between and Lin’s character and a cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro). They meet at a western style bar, go to a hotel and quickly commence to do nothing. Lin is too tired from the nights and excursions and falls asleep, leaving Kaneshiro to stay up and watch movies alone. This is not the long night of explicit and gratuitous love making that would punctuate the supposedly “pop” MTV work that Wong Kar-Wai is accused of. This is expressed even in the bar scene, in which the camera longingly follows the two characters as they sit and talk, with expressive, if not nostalgic long shots. A scene like this would be akin to Ambien to the MTV audience.

This same awareness of pacing and balance can be seen in In the Mood For Love. While it’s highs are not as high as in Chungking Express, In the Mood For Love paces itself against a singular design of fast paced, jump cut sequences (such as when So is running up the stairs in the hotel) and slow arid long takes (such as the slow motion shots) to create a balanced and conscious picture. Even in content, In the Mood For Love breaks from the MTV model. It certainly contains the elements of a Hollywood mass-market plot, circumstantial romance, cheating spouses, etc. However, Wong Kar-Wai does not cheapen the film by turning it into a run-of-the-mill domestic melodrama, or an over the top revenge picture. There are no explicit sex scenes. There are no great explosions or arguments. There is no wealth of tears. Instead this emotionally charged, nostalgic and energetic film plays with a graceful and prudent determination. Balancing the energy of the story and style of the film with a light, yet deliberate cinematic touch.

--Joel Carter

(In the Mood for Love 花樣年華, dir. Wong Kar-Wai 王家衛, 2000)

The Goddess

The Goddess represents the future of Shanghai. While the city lights are shining and prosperity is abound, Ruan Lingyu's character walks the street attempting to capture some of this prosperity, for her and her baby son. The past is represented by gossipers who have her son kicked out of school, because of his mother's 'alternative' lifestyle. Ruan Lingyu's character, the implied goddess of the intertitles, depicts the future through her steadfast love for her son, which unfortunately leads her to prositution and murder.

What the silent aspect of the film does so well is to create a situation that is not so melodramatic, but tragic. Through facial expressions, the silent monologue of the silver screen, we see the goddess cry and suffer, without feeling she is overacting. The absence of words also remind us that this is a film, but also that these situations are true because of the depiction of the city lights.

The Goddess represents not only the cultural future of Shanghai, but also the future of film in general. Ruan Lingyu's character is shown as a positive force in her son's life, despite being a prositute. Hollywood films until about the 1960s always depicted prostitutes in a negative light. The future of film is in this film, because it moves towards a positive portrait of a desperate lifestyle.

--Gillian Adler

(The Goddess 神女, dir. Wu Yonggang 吳永剛, 1934)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an Ang Lee film that visually represents the world of wuxia. Wuxia is a blend of martial arts, warriors, magic, and mythical swords. CTHD in a way is similar to one of Gordon Chan’s films, Painted Skin or Wa Pei (Hua pi), which was released recently in September. Similar to Crouching, Tiger Hidden Dragon, Painted Skin is also a martial arts and swordplay film. These two films are different in plot, timeline and characters. Yet, the similarity between them is significant: for instance, they both possess the mythical sword. In CTHD, the Green Destiny Sword is indestructible in term of cutting metals, and in Painted Skin, the Mythical Sword is a very powerful weapon when it is used against ghosts and monsters. When I made the comparison between these two films, I noticed that the director’s intentions for these movies are made for the western audiences.

After viewing CTHD, one of the topics that we discussed in class was why this particular film did not make a good profit when screened in China and Hong Kong, but on other hand did an excellent job in the United States. Besides the copies of pirated disks flowing around in the street, the reason that this film didn’t make a lot of profit in China and Hong Kong is because this is just a typical Chinese swordplay film with the influence of the Western story line. When it comes to swordplay or action films, the Chinese audience seems to pay high emphasis on the action. Without a doubt, this film has done an excellent job in term of cinematography, acting, music and costume, but it does somehow lack the action scenes. Furthermore, the fact that this film wasn’t dubbed into Mandarin was a major disappointment for the Chinese-speaking audiences. Because this film has acquired the actors and actresses from different places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, therefore, most of them do not speak the same standard Mandarin. An example of this is Li Mu Bai, played by Chow Yun Fat in the film, who was criticized for speaking Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. The question arises, why didn’t they just dub the movie into Mandarin in the first place? Now that I’ve seen it, it has made it much clearer that this is a transnational film.

Director Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has done an excellent job in creating a bridge between Eastern and Western cinema. The success of CTHD has not only opened up a door for many eastern films, but increased the popularity of Chinese wuxia films in the western world, where they were previously little known.

--Thien Quach

(Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 臥虎藏龍, dir. Ang Lee 李安, 2000)