(for my most exciting filmmaker discovery of the year): Kar Wai Wong, a Hong Kong movie director/writer/producer probably best known to Western audiences for In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa), made in 2000. A friend of mine had urged me for years to see the movie, but somehow it just never happened. Instead, I more or less stumbled across Fallen Angels (Duo luo tian shi, 1995), and totally loved it. The music, the colors, the texture, spellbinding cinematography — actually, many of Wong’s films are shot by the Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle who speaks Mandarin, French, and Cantonese fluently, and whose Chinese name is Du Ke Fung which means `like the wind’. “…if you get it right the eye connects directly with the heart”, he is quoted on IMDb, and that’s what makes his poetic images so intense and compelling.
One of the characters in Fallen Angels, an impish mute who breaks into businesses after hours and works in them, acquires a video camera and shoots everything around him: his father sleeping, his father cooking dinner; sticking the camera right into people’s faces. These scenes become a reflection, a mirror of the movie itself, of its hectic pace, its unplanned, unordered plot line, the touching moments of tenderness and love shining through the bright glare of neon lights and night traffic. As the viewer, you don’t have any distance, any bird’s eye perspective; there is no narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end; rather, just like in real life, you’re right in the thick of it and have no clue what will happen next. Not the typical Hollywood formula by a long shot.
We watched Chung King Express next, which was actually filmed earlier (Chung Hing sam lam, 1994). Equally funny, moving, fast-paced, visually amazing, and brilliant as Fallen Angels, it has loose connections and subtle parallels with the later movie.
And then — finally — I got to see In the Mood for Love, easily one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever watched. There were so many perfect shots, with color composition, play of light and shadows, geometric shapes, intriguing textures of walls, doors, window frames etc. just right that we had to pause frequently to admire the beauty of a single picture. Maggie Cheung who played the female protagonist took your breath away, her delicate gracefulness enhanced by her lavish wardrobe. The subtle but intense feelings developing between her and Tony Leung (who plays her love interest) advance just as much because of Doyle’s sumptuous cinematography as because of the characters’ dialogs and the plot line.
While we saw a few more of Kar Wai Wong’s films, the ones mentioned here are the top choices — no, Happy Together from 1997 (Chun gwong cha sit) belongs to this category too. But Fallen Angels remains the all-time favorite.