I have to admit that my first encounter with Chungking Express years ago was a confusing one. I was just getting into films, my experience with cinema was limited to mainstream Hollywood films and I had never seen anything like Chungking Express. I restarted my computer twice because I was sure the frame rate was my computer’s fault and not part of the film. Coming back to it years later with an appreciation for Wong Kar-wai’s other films and fresh eyes feels wonderful.
This essay is by our guest writer, Liz Hew.
For those unfamiliar with the works of Hong Kong-based filmmaker and auteur Wong Kar-Wai, it would be easy, at first glance, to assume that his most well-known feature, In the Mood for Love (2000), is an uncomplicated tale of courtship and romance. However, in Wong’s narrational realm, the thematics of love are rarely delivered without the entanglements of repression, guilt, and pain — familiar nuances of the human condition that afflict his exquisite and complex characters universally. One can argue that In the Mood for Love isn’t so much a chronicle of the innocent love that grows between strangers as it is a contemplation on longing; the agony of letting opportunities slip past, the rumination of “what ifs”, and the arresting sense of finality.
The protagonists at the heart of the story, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chui-Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), engage in a tentative yet sensual dance throughout the film’s entirety to its swooning score (mainly a recurring leitmotif of “Yumeji’s Theme” performed by Shigeru Umebayashi), and the cool timbre of Nat King Cole’s Spanish tracks, “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”. Both characters remain apprehensive of baring their true feelings to one another until it’s too late — yet their trepid concealment eventually transpires to a flirtation that at times, balances dangerously on the cusp of a real, forbidden love affair. It’s Wong Kar Wai’s command of framing his characters’ poignancy and yearning from intense repression (both self-imposed and societal), married with the richly evocative cinematography of his frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, which lends In the Mood for Love its haunting emotional resonance.
This essay is by our guest writer, Amanda Walencewicz.
Selecting the most indelible images from In the Mood for Love is somewhat of a fool’s errand, as Nathan Rabin alludes to in his review of the film for The Dissolve: “A coffee-table book commemorating every unforgettable image in In the Mood for Love would run many thousands of pages long and include literally every frame of the film,” he writes. But I would venture that for most viewers it is the gently swiveling hips of Maggie Cheung as she walks in her qipao, with her placid face and perfect coif. Her partner in the film, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, conjures a similar image, of impeccably tailored suits, slicked-back hair, and a face that displays only the quietest renderings of emotion. From their impenetrable physical presences comes not a stilted or awkward romance, but one that is deeply seductive.
Romance would seem to stem from openness, from unburdening oneself from the superficiality of one’s surroundings, from releases of tension and admissions of attraction. In the Mood for Love, instead builds that tension and never releases it, creating an unbearable longing for the characters and the viewer, which is satisfied only through the decadent visuals of the body. It is not a cheap tease, however, that director Wong Kar-wai goes for. It is not the idea of finding great pleasure in the small concessions given out of deprivation, the glimpse of the ankle on a fully-covered woman as it were. The body is a constant presence, a surrounding in which the viewer is immersed, excessive and lingered upon. It is both a counterpoint to the restraint of the characters and a result of it – the unintended byproduct of their very conscious actions.
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has always seamlessly incorporated his love for classic cinema into the band’s music — even back in the day when they were singing about drunken nights out in Sheffield. Ennio Morricone, in particular, has been a sort of muse for the songwriter, discernible from the organ sample in 505 which is lifted directly from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the orchestral flourishes of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But Arctic Monkeys’ newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, may be their most overtly cinematic output yet. The record is an ambitious and stunning piece of world-building. The sound — laid-back, Bowie-esque, piano-heavy tunes, reminiscent of jazz lounges and hotel lobbies — is light years away from the catchy guitar hooks that have dominated their oeuvre. Tranquility Base is a giant middle finger to the weighty expectations following the astronomical success of AM; a liberation from being pigeonholed as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sprawling retro sci-fi odyssey that George Lucas could’ve concocted himself — imagine Finn and Rose taking a detour to a casino on the moon instead of Canto Bight and you’ve got the vibe nailed.