Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hero Worship: Wong Kar-Wai

So the weekend is over, and with it I decided to leave the world of Brian de Palma for a while. Let’s face it, so far this blog has done little more than kiss his ass and recommend movies. But it’s a new week, and there are other asses to kiss. So tonight I decided to do a bit about another director I discovered pretty recently, but dig in the strongest way.

Wong Kar-Wai is sort of known as the antithesis of what the Hong Kong Film industry is known for. It’s almost become a cliché that every film that comes out of Hong Kong, particularly the ones that make it across the way over to the States fall into two categories, Martial Arts/Wuxia epics, or gritty crime dramas. I mean, consider the HK filmmakers and actors that have crossed over to the states successfully(Well, to varying degrees). John Woo, Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo-Ping(anytime his name is used in the states it says, “From the action choreographer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix, think back, I‘m sure you‘ve seen this somewhere), Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and even Ang Lee, who is a Taiwanese director made it into the states with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Stephen Chow who had been working in comedies in Hong Kong for years didn’t break out in the states in a big way until he made a comedy that involved kung fu(Yes, I am talking about Kung Fu Hustle).

Now don’t get me wrong, I love all these directors and their films, in fact it was because of my love of the genre that drew me to the HK film industry in the first place. That introduced me to a new world of directors and actors I had never seen before, but promptly fell in love with. People like Ringo Lam, Johnny To, Andrew Lau, and Donnie Yen to name a few. But it’s difficult to argue, that these two genres, the crime and martial arts films(sometimes combined) dominated the output over there. It was with this mindset that I discovered Wong Kar-Wai and his emotional art house fare.

To see a Wong Kar-Wai film for the first time is at the same time a breath of fresh air, and a breathtaking experience, don’t ask me how that works. That’s regardless of whether or not your mind has a stigma against HK films like I did. Why? I believe it’s because he makes films that those of us here in the states don’t see anymore. It could certainly be argued that our output has never been anything like his films.

WKW is a romantic filmmaker, although my our standards here in the states he may seem like the most glass half empty bastard ever. His aspirations reach higher than that of the (very American) happy ending with the lovers walking into the sunset together(or was that Indy and his father?) His films generally fall into a category of unrequited love, abusive, or sometimes even mutually abusive relationships. It was through his films like Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and Happy Together that I saw the emotional power that cinema can bring to a simple relationship between two people. That’s why I was so surprised then, to realize he shoots movies without a completed script. In fact his actors often don’t know what they’re going to do until the night before or morning of.

WKW is known to leave lots of footage on the cutting room floor. He says that he has no finalized script because while he has a basic idea for the story before starting, the story evolves as they go on. So basically, a WKW story is one that is created in editing. To watch the deleted footage from one of his movies is kind of like watching scenes from a different movie altogether. Generally speaking, when you hear that a movie is going into production without a final screenplay, it means trouble, it’s because of this that I find WKW’s work so damn interesting.

WKW is also one of the big directors who influenced me personally in my views on film, particularly my view on the lowered importance of a story to the flick. His films are described like a really great album. Sure, as a whole it works well, all the pieces fit together. But within that, there are smaller moments that work by themselves, like the individual songs of the album. I find this to be a very exciting and different approach to viewing movies. Too often we base our own opinions about something based solely on one small instance(Yes, even the ending is a small instance) We get mad or, and because we’re geeks “disown” something because we dislike bits sometimes as small as a single scene. Are we really so pathetic as human beings as to have our entire opinion of a film swayed by something so small? Of course it’s all relative once again, but I do find that too often, we end up hating an entire product based on a single element. It’s like, say you love breakfast, but hate sausage. You get a big breakfast platter, three eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes… and sausage. Are you gonna not eat the entire meal now because it came with sausage? No, just ignore the fucking sausage and eat the rest… that meal sounds quite tasty right now actually.

Perhaps WKW’s biggest strength as a director is his ability to fuse music with the moving image. Even the most avid WKW hater has to admit his use of music is second to none. He has a theory that generally speaking, a movie has the image as a foreground piece, with music accompanying it, but sometimes, it’s nice to switch it up, and have the music front and center. When he does this, I find it creates a hypnotic effect on us as viewers that allows us to back away from the importance of the overall story for a second and enjoy the moment. The rest will happen eventually, but for now, just let what is happening on screen wash over you, you’ll have a better experience because of it.

[I wonder how many people are going to completely disregard this post because it's about a director who isn't American]

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