Wong Kar Wai is renowned for his lush visual style, atmospheric music and non-linear storytelling, and Mercury’s retrospective opened with the delightfully nostalgic evocation of 1960s Hong Kong, love mood (2000). Set in 1962, this hypnotic tale of loneliness and nostalgia is set in the tiny rooms and narrow hallways of a downtown apartment building in which two young couples rent rooms from neighboring families.
The extraordinarily glamorous Ms. Chan (Maggie Cheung) is married to an executive whose job takes her away on business for long periods of time. In the apartment next door, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is an editor married to a wife who is also often absent.
Ms. Chan and Mr. Chow find themselves living lonely, isolated existences while constantly surrounded by people, either in their bustling apartments or in the crowded town beyond. The two neighbors begin a timid friendship, constantly on the lookout for gossip that any unfortunate contact would cause.
As the couple’s suspicions mount that their spouses might not be faithful, they tentatively inquire about each other’s situation. Finally, the evidence cannot be ignored. Not only do their respective partners have affairs, but their spouses sleep together.
Pulled together by shared humiliation and abandonment, Chan and Chow begin a chaste courtship, trying to figure out how their spouses’ relationship began and staunchly resisting the love that blossoms between them.
The entire film is saturated with a dreamy, hypnotic nostalgia for the early 1960s. William Chang Suk-ping’s production design is unparalleled. The colors, textures, interiors and costumes are simply mesmerizing. To say that the visual element of this film is exquisite is to underestimate it. Maggie Cheung’s cheongsam collection alone deserves the pages of vogue.
Corn In the mood for love the gorgeous aesthetic isn’t solely attributable to the production design. Australian cinematographer and regular Wong Kar Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle created the film’s special atmosphere using cropped views of crowded apartments and passageways, and fractured footage taken through doors and windows. . Cleverly, unfaithful spouses are never completely revealed, always glimpsed from behind or partially obscured. This cramped atmosphere in which the thwarted love, loneliness and regret of the protagonists are played out is poetic, visceral and is accompanied by a soundtrack of painful beauty.
Wong Kar Wai’s cult classic is also featured as part of Love and Neon. Chung King Express (1994), in which the author’s distinctive view of Hong Kong’s urban space, crowded city life, and 1960s nostalgia are once again central.
Despite this film’s contemporary setting, handheld camera work, fast editing, and bifurcated narration, Chung King Express is as distinctly a part of Wong’s unique cinematic universe as the slower-paced melodrama of love mood (2000).
The opening story is set in downtown Kowloon around the gritty, labyrinthine Chung King House. A heartbroken young cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro), desperate to rekindle his romance with an ex-girlfriend, unexpectedly crosses paths with a glamorous drug dealer (Brigitte Lin). She is also in dire straits, but for very different reasons. The trafficker roams the city’s underground levels in a blonde wig and designer glasses, looking for the drug mules who have double-crossed her.
The second story of Chung King Express, nominally linked to the former by Hong Kong Island fast food restaurant Midnight Express, also focuses on the romantic life of a young cop (Tony Leung Chiu-wai). Accustomed to fast food, he becomes the involuntary fixation of an ethereal and eccentric worker (Faye Wang).
Frenzied, colorful, and set to a soundtrack perfectly suited to its visual energy, much of the film’s charm lies in the characters’ quirky inner dialogues. Although it seems a world away from the hypnotic rhythm of love moodthe color, the music, the crowded spaces and the tender exploration of romantic longing put it squarely in the wheelhouse of Wong Kar Wai.
As a taste of Wong’s unique directorial aesthetic, these two films turned out to be a perfectly curated appetizer. This retrospective is a rare opportunity to discover the back catalog of a director who has exerted a major stylistic influence on contemporary cinema. Seeing these magnificent films on the big screen is an opportunity not to be missed.
Chung King Express is screened again at Mercury Cinema on Thursday, October 21 and love mood screens again on Friday (October 22). The full schedule of Love and Neon screenings and other films at Mercury during OzAsia can be viewed on the OzAsia website.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.