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WONG’S SO RIGHT - Brooklyn Paper

WONG’S SO RIGHT

Eat and run: As part of the "Living in Dreams: Films of Wong Kar Wai" series at BAMcinematek, the 1994 romantic comedy "Chungking Express" will be screened on May 15.

A humid summer night. Dozing fitfully on
your rumpled bed, you pine hopelessly for a lost love. Through
your open window, rainfall, voices and passing radios intrude
on your dreams, until you can’t recall which parts are real and
which fantasy.



No film artist has captured this misery and transmuted it into
ecstasy more than Wong Kar Wai. From May 14 to May 23, just as
warm nights hit the city, BAMcinematek will present "Living
in Dreams: Films of Wong Kar Wai." His seven works as director/writer,
plus three others that put his career in context, will be screened.



It is a particularly opportune moment for such a survey. The
director’s eighth opus, "2046," premieres at the Cannes
Film Festival the same week. And Sofia Coppola recently acknowledged
Wong’s influence on "Lost in Translation" when accepting
her Best Screenplay Oscar.



In the furiously commercial world of Hong Kong cinema, Wong is
king of the misfits. His films are intensely interior yet so
sensual you feel them on your skin. They drip and shimmer with
expressionistic color, fetishistic detail and atmospheric music.
And although they rarely meet box-office success, they rake in
awards and inspire imitators and parodists.



Wong started as just another screenwriter-for-hire, a period
represented here by the comedy-action-horror crowdpleaser "The
Haunted Cop Shop" (1987; screens May 21). Its director and
co-writer, Jeffrey Lau, later partnered with Wong to form the
Jet Tone production company.



Wong’s directing debut, "As Tears Go By" (1988; May
21) is the umpteenth glossy knockoff of Martin Scorsese’s "Mean
Streets." His only big hit to date as director, it’s the
Wong film for people who don’t really like Wong films.



He found his voice with "Days of Being Wild" (1991;
May 23), which wanders the damp nighttime streets of early 1960s
Hong Kong like one of its lost-youth protagonists. "Days"
also inaugurated his collaboration with pop- and screen-idol
Leslie Cheung, playing an angel-faced, but cold-blooded, womanizer
with serious oedipal issues. Wong’s nostalgic melancholy is all
the more resonant in light of Cheung’s suicide last April at
the age of 45. In their three movies together, Wong exquisitely
wielded the Cheung persona, a blend of dapper arrogance and quivering
vulnerability.



Cheung was among eight major stars sucked for two years into
the making of "The Ashes of Time" (1994; May 16). The
breathtaking and bewildering result filters HK cinema’s defining
genre, martial arts, through a vision that, at first glance,
couldn’t be more opposed. The heart of martial arts cinema is
the human body working its will on the physical world; the point
and poignance of "Ashes" is that this power doesn’t
translate to the inner world. Crippled by wounds on their souls,
these mystic warriors mostly languish in the dust, their swords
growing dull.



Amusingly, BAM’s series even includes the bizarre footnote, "The
Eagle-Shooting Heroes" (1993; May 16). As the desert shoot
for "Ashes" made cinders out of its schedule and budget,
the entire principal cast took time out for this gonzo martial
arts spoof, with Wong producing and his Jet Tone partner Lau
directing. It must be one of the few instances of a movie made
as a fundraiser for another movie.



"Chungking Express" (1994; May 15) began as a footnote:
Wong knocked it out with atypical speed in back streets and hole-in-the-wall
locations, during a break from editing "Ashes." Maybe
consequently, it zips along with refreshing energy. It’s his
sweetest, most optimistic film, a romantic comedy at heart. "Fallen
Angels" (1995; May 23) is its darker B-side, using characters
fallen from the "Chungking" script. Both trace the
intersecting paths of nightdwelling loners. Both embody the big-city
feeling of being surrounded, yet untouched, by a torrent of humanity.
One offers hope for connection, the other dashes it.



"Happy Together" (1997; May 14) oscillates between
these poles as it observes the disintegration of an expatriate
gay couple stuck in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With two of Hong
Kong’s best actors, Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, onscreen
almost constantly, it could have been a two-man show. But as
always, the director is the real star, searing the screen with
garish, decayed reds, the perfect hue for a love that has burned
itself out.



Such craft seems to emerge willy-nilly from improvisatory rewriting
and re-shooting suggestive of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Amos Lee and Kwan Pun Leung’s "Buenos Aires, Zero Degrees"
(1999; May 20), offers a rare document of this prodigal directing
process. Snippets from the many hours of unused "Happy Together"
footage are augmented with cast and crew interviews and later
film shot by Lee and Kwan on the original locations.



"In the Mood for Love" (2000; May 22), without dispelling
Wong’s hallucinatory rapture, is his subtlest and most emotionally
authentic film to date. Abandoning his trademark voiceover monologues,
he lets fluttering glances and tensed shoulders express the unspoken
passion between two married neighbors in a claustrophobic, middle-class
tenement.



Coppola swiped the heart-piercing final scene, but accept no
substitutes. This fleeting minute or so could stand as the career
summit for any filmmaker, but it could have been made by only
one.

 

"Living in Dreams: Films of Wong
Kar Wai" will run May 14-23 at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette
Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene. Tickets are $10, $7 for
students 25 and under (with valid I.D. Monday-Thursday, except
holidays) and $6 for seniors, BAM Cinema Club members, and children
under 12. For more information, log onto www.bam.org or call
(718) 636-4100.


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