Popular East Asian Cinema

Wong Kar-Wai breakthroughs the boundaries of genre film, the narrative style and the efficiency requirements of the market. Wong’s movies always based on Wong’s thinking and bring out the signification. Although the movie themes are the popular, but the films are full of vitality and spirited improvisation. I want to have a brief study of Wong Kar-wai’s background and focus on Wong’s theme and style study and analysis from different films such as ‘As Tears Go By’, ‘Chungking Express’, ‘In the Mood For Love’ etc. As ‘In the Mood For Love’ is my favorite movie of Wong Kar-Wai, I want to have a further study of this film and have a deeper understand about the theme, the function of music, Hong Kong people’s living during 60s.

Wong Kar-Wai was born in Shanghai in 1958 and moved to Hong Kong when he was five years old. These five years in Shanghai had influenced Wong Kar Wai’s creativity in his films such as the scenes, lifestyle and so on. The interview by New York-based Bomb Magazine (Stephen Teo, WONG KAR-WAI P.50) described the creative subconscious of Wong ‘His father was an ex-sailor, who later worked as a nightclub manager, and his mother was a housewife. From what can be discerned in Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, both films that could be described as roughly autobiographical, sense of nightclubs, gossiping housewives playing mahjong and living the life of a sailor drifting from one place to another, are the kinds of experiences of growing up that are etched in Wong’s creative subconscious.’ After the graduation in Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he started working in TVB, Hong Kong’s premier TV station as a production assistant and received the appreciation from Kam Kwok Leong who is a famous cross-media worker of director, actor and screenwriter in Hong Kong, Wong Kar-Wai accessed a large number of creative opportunities to contributed his ideas to a script. He also worked in different kinds of genres such as comedy, cop thrillers etc. In 1987, Alan Tang Kwong-Wing (famous producer, actor and director in Hong Kong) found Wong’s Talent after he wrote the ‘Flaming Brothers’. After that, Alan Tang sponsored Wong’s first movie – ‘As Tears Go By’, it is also the starting point of Wong’s director career. Alan Tang sponsored Wong once again in 1990 for ‘Days of Being Wild’. ‘Day of Being Wild’ had spent forty million but the box office was only nine million. Although the box office was disappointed, Wong won the Best Director in Hong Kong Film Award in 1991.
Hong Kong cinema is very concentrate at entertaining. Scriptwriter will pay more attention to the audiences about their preferences and aesthetic views. Movie’s ornamental is the priority for the success of the commercial movies. Most of the directors are not limited by the country, nationality, history and religion. Therefore, when the directors are choosing the topic, they will mainly focus on the packaging of the movies. Hong Kong cinema can be defined as ‘art with commercial’ or ‘commercial with art’.
After the development year by year, Hong Kong movie formulated a fixed narrative style for catering to the audiences. Stephen Teo (2005, P.15) mentioned about the formula of Hong Kong movies ‘The nature of Hong Kong cinema concerns the way the industry follows commercial trends and makes films according to a formula’. Most of the movies will follow the timeline to tell the story, but Wong broke the rule at that time. ‘Days of Being Wild’ is a very good example. He ignored the narrative law of the plot, so he can not only having a wider freedom for the selection of the forms and materials, but also make the film became more artificial as you can see Wong Kar Wai’s elements in the movie. He also breaks the circulation and causal chain of Hong Kong cinema’s narrative structure. In ‘Days of being wild’ is tended to show people’s daily life with uncompleted storyline and transformation. ‘Days of Being Wild’ received the spirit of the new wave of Hong Kong cinema.
‘A Better Tomorrow’ and ‘As Tears Go By’
After five years in 1980, there was a new hot wave of ‘Hero Movie’, which started from John Woo’s ‘A Better Tomorrow’. In ‘Hero Movie’, ‘Hero’ means the leader of triad instead of police. The brotherhood in ‘Hero Movie’ replaced the strangeness plot of gangster film. The scene in ‘A Better Tomorrow’ was happened in Hong Kong in 1986; it is all about a man keeps chasing personal loyalty, self-esteem, self-confidence and status. The society background usually is simple in ‘Hero Movie’; it doesn’t emphasis the contradiction between society and people. In ‘A Better Tomorrow’, it is all about the love between father and son, brotherhood, friendship, relationship, injustice and revenge. It created a fairy story of a real ‘Hero’.
Wong’s ‘As Tears Go By’ is the variation of ‘Hero Movie’. The plot of ‘As Tears Go By’ is build-up on the brotherhood of Wah and Fly under the contradiction between police and triad. Merely, Wong moved the spirit of the brotherhood between Mark ‘Gor’ Lee and Sung Tse-Ho to Wah and Fly in ‘As Tears Go By’ who shot by his brother at the end. Wah is not only accomplished the brotherhood but also shows that even ‘Hero’ can’t accomplish great things gloriously. In these two films, ‘A Better Tomorrow’ is full of idealism of justice and ethics. Under the packaging with violence, the world in ‘Hero Movie’ is having a clear definition of good and evil and the desire of justice, such as Mark ‘Gor’ Lee and Sung Tse-Ho are killing the enemies together and died eventually with brotherhood, friendship and relationship. Scriptwriter arranged them died with glory. It turns Mark ‘Gor’ Lee becomes the hero in the legend. Merely, the Hero’ in ‘As Tears Go By’ can’t. The dead of Wah and Fly not only breaks the rule of ‘Hero Movie’ and reached the dim of the persist of life but also shows sentiment of anti-heroism.
The position of the female role in ‘A Better Tomorrow’ and ‘As Tears Go By’ are having an obvious different. In ‘Hero Movie’, the function of the female is to set off the masculinity and brotherhood. However, the female in ‘As Tears Go By’ doesn’t help a lot to the destiny of the male, but they acted an important role between the developments of the relationships. If ‘Hero Movie’ praised the brotherhood, ‘As Tears Go By’ shows Wong’s persistent of love theme. When the male died, he just laid on the street without glory. Surprisingly, the last thing he was thinking was the kiss scene with his love on the street. It shows a rare but typical romantic scene in ‘Hero Movie’. Under the treatment of romantic style, it is sensitive and imaginative. From ‘As Tears Go By’, we can see Wong’s combined genre and the ambition of the theme vision.
‘Chungking Express’
Chungking Express’ is the third movie of Wong Kar Wai. The conservative atmosphere surrounded the movie market in Hong Kong at that time, but Wong dared to restructure the genre of gangster movie and romantic movie. Generally in gangster films, police are always upright and gangsters are always bad. The dramatic elements are from the justice and interest between police and gangsters.
The first part in ‘Chungking Express’ breaks the narrative rule about police chasing the gangster. It is about the relationship of the strangers, Cop 223 and the unnamed female drug dealer; their relationship seems getting start but also will be end soon. In part 2, Wong even cut the part of gangster and make it as a complete romantic story between Cop 633 and Faye. Wong had his own rationale for the emotional relationships in the film (Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-Wai 2005, P.20) ‘It’s very difficult to describe why a man likes a woman, and the deep feelings between two brothers, and so on. They are all very subtle. But I wanted to put forward the proposition that time is the biggest factor. ‘Chungking Express’ proved that Wong is not only live in his own narcissistic, but also the creativity in the movie that Hong Kong people can feel and understand about. It is valuable that Wong’s being loyal to his personal feeling about Hong Kong and the people who are living in Hong Kong. The modernity in ‘Chungking Express’ is very strong, it makes people believe that Wong can catch the thought of the adult and teenagers more than other directors. Wong Kar Wai expressed the loneliness and the unstable status of the relationships about the people who live in this city. Wong Kar-Wai said (David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment, 2000, p.283) ‘the two stories are quiet independent. What puts them together is that they are both love stories. I think a lot of city people have a lot of emotions but sometimes they can’t find the people to express them to’. It is the main reason of the success of ‘Chungking Express’.
‘Happy Together’

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