Monday, 5 March 2007

Wong Kar-Wai - book review by Sandra Dupuy

Authors: Marc Lalanne, David Martinez,
Ackbar Abbas and Jimmy Nga
Publisher: Dis Voir
Price: £21.99
Out Now

Having directed only eight films, 38 year old Wong Kar-Wai is nevertheless one of the most influential auteurs in contemporary world cinema. Being creatively independent from the system while working within the Hong-kong film industry, he has deliberately set out to create an oeuvre, scripting all his films, exploring personal themes, selecting his actors and locations, as well as each soundtrack, and, of course, being responsible for the final cut.

It was about time for lecturers Lalanne and Abbas, and film critics Martinez and Ngai, to pay decent homage to his genius. Their work consists of four varied-length features, complete with biography and filmography. Lalanne focuses on the power of Wong’s images, which translate space and time in a radically different way. Martinez discusses his specific use of music, and how it evokes a referential, even interior world. Abbas demonstrates how the characters’ actions and emotions end up generating deep disappointment. In his interview with Ngai, Wong describes his personal creative process, his collaboration with artistic producer William Chang and director of photography Chris Doyle, as well as his geographical attachment to Honk-Kong, and the deep sense of nostalgia that runs through his life and films. These four distinctive voices also evoke common recurrent themes that make Wong’s work so innovative.

At the heart of Wong’s filming process is the post-modern idea that his generation of directors are “recycling” what has been done before, rather than discovering new cinematic spaces. According to Lalanne, Wong goes further than anyone else in narrative inventiveness, as he dynamites genre conventions, such as the urban crime story in As Tears Go by, or the classic swordfight film in Ashes of Time (1994), in order to reconstruct them around his own obsessions, crafting convoluted but incomplete storylines: “Each of his films bears the traces of another story it could have told and which he couldn’t bring himself to do away with. Wong Kar-Wai’s fiction films are less stories than crossroads of stories.”

Every author also mentions the impossibility for Wong’s characters to really connect, communicate, and love one another. “In every set of relation […] the characters miss each other and fail to match up. As a result, no story has a happy conclusion […]”, notes Abbas, analysing the interpersonal dynamics of Days of Being Wild (1991). The voice-over is a constant which allows characters to comment on their actions, inform, anticipate their own existence, and share their regrets. Lalanne points out that “When interior monologue takes the place of dialogue, it is because communication is no longer self-evident.”

The physical aspect of the book itself mirrors the texture of Wong Kar-Wai’s films. The features are nestling in a glossy casket of artful shots. The volume contains fragments of in-depth analysis, but presents no introduction, no real chapters, no conclusion, and no bibliography. Though it may seem more like a compilation than a well-structured and comprehensive work, it is gripping, most erudite, and always thought provoking. This work is a compliment to Wong’s films, endearing because of their fractured and fascinating narratives, their enigmatic characters, and their visually stunning sensuality tinged with melancholy.

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