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)


Rob said...

I must say that for the most part I agree. may be I'm just chought in the moment but the slow mo. scenes just take me somwhere else with the music in volved. R

Anonymous said...

The music and the slow motion camera is somewhat the soul of this film. Those two things really blends into one another. I cant imagine what this film would be like without those things.


Anonymous said...

Wong Kar-Wai has a way of blending modern form with past content which creates a sort of nostalgic pastiche that can be enjoyed by the broader international audience. The lyrical pacing of the film along with the heavily stylized aesthetic work together to create the art cinema feel; when I watch a Wong Kar-Wai film, I'm not just watching a film, but also a music video, a fashion show, a tale of romance and intrigue, and hidden within all of that an artist's personal development and social commentary. It is an active viewing experience of intertwined spectacle and narrative.


Gillian Adler said...

I agree with you that some of Wong Kar Wai techniques are very much to capture the attention of tweens. On the other hand, these techniques add to the films dreamlike flow and it's platonic overtones are much different than most romance movies.

Anonymous said...

It's a good point on WKW's mixture of the fast and slow pacing of scenes within the film. It seems that it would be impossible to utitlize both in a single film but he, like in many of his films can balance the two extremes so well as they are virtually imperceptable and rarely call attention accept to emphasize the content of the film.

Jon said...

I always think of Wes Anderson when I see Wong Kar Wai. Anderson's films are geared more toward humor and less melodramatic but the length of the sequences, colors, pace of the dialogue and distance of the camera from the actors faces are all similar.