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In The Mood For Love (#110 of 7)

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013

In my four years attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, this was the first time where tickets for screenings weren’t sold out for every film by 10 a.m. the day prior. The economic wallop that briefly made its presence known at last year’s festival was brutally felt this year in some near-empty screenings, among them a program for avant-garde short films that included David Gatten’s awe-inspiring By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesques of Foraging. The lack of a surfeit of people robbed the screenings of their sense of urgency—that very specific do-or-die feeling you get at a festival when people are elbowing you as they try to shove their way through narrow doors and into the theater at the same time, rushing to find their seats. But the mellow atmosphere didn’t preclude the discovery of a few very good films.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Kenji Fujishima’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In trying to whip up a Top 10 for this alternative Sight & Sound poll, I decided from the beginning to try to forgo any extra-cinematic considerations and simply go with 10 films that mean a great deal to me personally. There’s an implicit canon-building aspect to this particular exercise, and surely some would feel a need to take into account not only previous Sight & Sound poll-toppers (Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, , etc.), but also such things as historical importance in coming up with a list for posterity. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, screw posterity: I’m totally willing to admit, at the outset, the possibility that any of my favorite 10 below may decline in estimation over time, to be replaced by another film entirely that I may begin to appreciate more as I grow older. For now, though, these are 10 films that I could not part with in my life.

The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

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The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai
The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

Jason Bellamy: “When did everything start to have an expiration date?” That’s a question posed by a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, and in a sense that line is a snapshot of what Wong’s films are all about. In the 20 years and change that Wong has been directing, he’s developed several signature flourishes that make his films instantly recognizable—from his striking use of deep, rich colors, to his affinity for repetitive musical sequences, to his judicious use of slow motion for emotional effect, and many more—but at the core of Wong’s filmography is an acute awareness of passing time and a palpable yearning for things just out of reach. In the line above, the cop in Chungking Express is ostensibly referring to the expiration dates on cans of pineapple, which he’s using to mark the days since his girlfriend dumped him, but in actuality he’s referring to that failed relationship, to his (somewhat) fleeting youth (he’s approaching his 25th birthday) and to the deadline he has created for his girlfriend to reconsider and take him back. In the cop’s mind, at least, whether they will be together has as much to do with when as with why. Or put more simply: if timing isn’t everything, it’s a lot of it.

That theme pops up again and again in Wong’s films. Roger Ebert zeroed in on it in his 2001 review of Wong’s In the Mood for Love when he observed of the two lead characters, “They are in the mood for love, but not in the time or place for it.” While that’s particularly true of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, it could readily be applied to almost all of Wong’s lead characters. In this conversation we’re going to discuss Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and My Blueberry Nights (2007), and over and over again we’ll see characters united by emotion but kept apart by timing. So I’d like to open by asking you the following: Do the recurring themes of Wong’s body of work strengthen the potency and poetry of the individual films or water them down? Put another way, are Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express enhanced by In the Mood for Love and 2046 or obliterated by them, or are they not significantly affected one way or the other?

Film Comment Selects 2010: Perfect Life

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Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Perfect Life</em>
Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Perfect Life</em>

Perfect Life is a panoply of perfect, perfectly repulsive moments. The film saves one of its best for late: a crowd of Chinese women gather outside a carnival. An English-language song comprised of prepubescent male whistlers and an upbeat synthesizer plays. The women gather in rows, clapping their hands, dancing as if they were in an aerobics class, flesh sagging and bouncing. At the end, one middle-aged woman looks around, proud, smiling, happy, as people stare at her. For an instant—in her mind, at least—she’s a star. Then the sound mutes, and the screen cuts to black. The movie’s prepared us for this moment with many scenes of fantasy and escape. In the first scene a younger woman, perhaps the older woman’s daughter, perhaps her double—shows up to an audition. She plays “Auld Lang Syne” on a harmonica, badly. An auditioner asks, “What strange melody is that?”

You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade

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You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade
You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade

[Editor’s Note: This article is cross-published at Directorama.]

People who know me realize I’m not much of a list-maker. My peculiar taste is suspiciously mood-specific and based on private obsessions that are ever-evolving (just like everyone else’s, for that matter), so numbering favorites is about as pointless to me as, say, a Stephen Sommers remake of Howard the Duck to mankind. Then again… what is life but a string of silly exercises?

I started making this list just to see if I could. I do not claim to have seen every worthwhile film this decade. I do not claim to have the authority to tell you what you should like. I do not believe in objective valuation and it doesn’t think highly of me either. But I might be the guy to convince you to see something you may have dismissed or overlooked. In any case, beware of superlatives.

Appreciation: Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels

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Appreciation: Wong Kar-wai’s <em>Fallen Angels</em>
Appreciation: Wong Kar-wai’s <em>Fallen Angels</em>

A kaleidoscope of alienation and longing, Wong Kar-wai’s 1995 film Fallen Angels remains one of Wong’s least discussed and least appreciated films. Of course, compared to the sheer beauty and maturity of his latest work—his intimate In the Mood for Love (2000); his majestic 2046 (2004); even “The Hand” (2004), his relatively brief yet masterful contribution to the omnibus film Eros—-earlier films like this one and Chungking Express (1994) come off as energetic though show-offy stylistic exercises.

But Fallen Angels is no mere exercise. In some ways, it is almost as important a film in Wong’s oeuvre as Happy Together (1997). If Happy Together represented a stepping stone, an emotional deepening of Wong’s usual themes of love, loss and desire, Fallen Angels represents both a look back and a look forward for one of cinema’s most important current directors.

Wong’s first feature film was a gangster flick titled As Tears Go By (1988), a Mean Streets ripoff that seemed to take its emotional cues from the popular Hong Kong action films of the time (such as John Woo’s 1986 gangster melodrama A Better Tomorrow). Tears may have been derivative and at times even dated and cheesy (on hearing the film’s Cantopop rendition of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” a friend said, “And I thought the original was bad enough!”), but it had an operatic power, and more importantly, it laid out some of Wong’s stylistic signatures, including exaggerated neon-tinted lighting, the use of pop music to underscore moods, and pixillated slow-motion action scenes.