Today marks twenty years since Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker Wong Kar-wai‘s film Happy Together first screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, ultimately winning the award for Best Director and launching his name on an international scale. Further pushing his unique storytelling and gritty, surreal aesthetic to the world, he explores human connection (and disconnection) in scenes of love, loss, and reality.
Each Wong Kar-wai film has its fair share of tragedy, but his most reputed film Happy Together wins the spot of his most melancholic piece. Finding solace, spurts of happiness, and the eventual return to destruction, the director focuses on two men in a dysfunctional relationship, played his frequent collaborators Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung. Portraying same-sex relationship in an ordinary light, he captures an all too real tale of romanticism, with the two protagonists seeing a tender and safe projection of what used to be in each other. If that’s more than enough to pique your interest, check out 5 of our other favorite Wong Kar-wai films to watch.
5. My Blueberry Nights (2007)
Some might classify this as on the lower end of the spectrum of Wong’s films, the director is an exception to the rule because while that may be true, it’s still a good movie. Keeping his first American film wrought with emotion rather than structure, he translates his blatantly raw experience of a personal journey through sight and sound in the Western context. Whether he does it successfully is up for debate, but he does make an impact with his blend of late night conversations and intimate sequences.
4. Days of Being Wild (1990)
Despite being his second film, this paves way to the start of his avant garde disposition of storytelling, following the life of Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) by way of visuals and gentle eroticism than use of words. Collaborating for the first time with Doyle, his first shot at lovelorn stories championed his way of sensing disconnection in glimpses of romance, a theme he’ll explore more after this. While seeing surreal sparks of intimacy that flicker as soon as they’re lit, this disarray builds an uncertainty that makes the perfect coming-of-age, a good balance of punctuations of pleasure amidst a sense of loss.
3. In the Mood for Love (2000)
The opulence of In the Mood for Love lies in its timidity–the precise hesitance, the loaded glances, and the innocence behind closed doors. The telling infatuation, and possibly true romance that lasted between Chow (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) made for an even more painful heartbreak than if what they shared went beyond quiet nights of noodles, cigarettes and stories.
2. 2046 (2004)
Existing in a universe both interlinking Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love while also creating a fictional world parallel to its own, Wong creates the epitome of evocative narratives that simply don’t exist in the realm of traditional storytelling. Fabricating a sense of nostalgia from his own characters, he weaves Chow’s story after the events of In the Mood for Love into multiple sequences of paramours while trying to find love, just as Yuddy did. With performances from the original Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, Gong Li, Faye Wong, and Zhang Ziyi join the repertoire of shifting benchmarks in this non-linear film, backed with a myriad of symbols hidden in each room number, story title, and name.
1. Chungking Express (1994)
Clearly withstanding as a legend in cinema, if you’re looking for the perfect marriage of all things Wong Kar-wai, Chungking Express holds his truth with no holds barred. With his classic touch of multiple paths in one story, he coaxes out the highs and lows of love, the excitement of newfound relationships, curbed lust in moments of loneliness, and the reality of fate and loss. And the best GIF of Faye Wong in front of an electric fan.–JANROE THE BOAT