A film auteur is described as a filmmaker with an unmistakable approach whose filmmaking control is so unbounded, however personal, that the director is regarded as the author of the film. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai fits into that mold perfectly, having directed ten films over a 30-plus career.
Personally, I got into the work of Wong Kar-wai late as far as my film love and appreciation goes. His work mesmerized me from the start, with Chungking Express being the first film I viewed. I was hooked and quickly went through half of his filmography within weeks. So, what makes Wong Kar-wai Wong Kar-wai?
The Use of Colors
Every Wong Kar-wai film I’ve seen has an interesting distinction with color. It’s evoking a particular mood rather than letting the characters or score solely express the mood. For example, Chungking Express is bright and suffused with splendid, beautiful daytime tones, while Fallen Angels is about neon, nighttime, and grit.
By the last part of the ’90s, alongside cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong Kar-wai fostered a true-to-life figure of speech given various colors, all with their implications and sounds. Practically every film is filled with shades and tints that feel expertly crafted for a reason.
Depth of Field
I’ll remember my first viewing of Fallen Angels for the rest of my life, primarily because of its extreme wide-angle approach throughout its entirety. Characters were blown-up close in the shot, while the scene behind them felt infinitely farther than it was.
The wide-angle and long-central length focal points gave the space in each scene a different change we usually wouldn’t see in a film. It’s not common to use that extreme of a wide-angle lens for most of a film, primarily with close-up shots of characters.
Like Fallen Angels, who could forget the complete change of characters and story in Chungking Express? Wong Kar-wai has a fascinating approach to storytelling and doesn’t care to fall under the traditional tactic of telling a story.
If you were to take a screenwriting class and tell them you have a story that completely changes characters and its story in the middle, your professor would tell you that’d be impossible to sell. Well, Wong Kar-wai successfully did that with Chungking Express, with most of his films featuring a divided, unbalanced, and episodic style, to the point that they become befuddling.
Utilizing Film Speed
Every Wong Kar-wai film I’ve seen utilizes film speed like no other filmmaker. Rather than strictly use it for a dramatic purpose, Wong Kar-wai frequently shoots in a slow or fast motion for various impacts. Whether making his actors move slower while shooting at a lower speed or the typical lower frame-rate shot, Wong Kar-wai is a master at utilizing film speed.
My Favorite Wong Kar-wai Films
Though I haven’t seen all ten films by Wong Kar-wai, I have seen a decent chunk of them. I’ve enjoyed everything I have seen and thought I’d conclude by sharing my three favorites (I still have to see In The Mood For Love and 2046, in case you’re wondering why those aren’t in my top three).
- Happy Together (1997) – A couple takes a trip to Argentina, but both men find their lives drifting apart in opposite directions.
- Fallen Angels (1995) – This Hong Kong-set crime drama follows the lives of a hitman hoping to get out of the business and his elusive female partner.
- Chungking Express (1994) – Two melancholy Hong Kong policemen fall in love: one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal waitress at a late-night restaurant he frequents.