Thursday, May 5, 2022

“World of Wong Kar-Wai” Retrospective at SIFF Cinema: Jun 4 - 7

At the height of the global pandemic, in December 2020, Janus Films brought the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" to home screens across North America, in new 4K restorations and previously unseen alternate cuts. Presented as streaming virtual theatrical screenings  “World of Wong Kar Wai Retrospective Arrives at Lincoln Center”, and was available through Film Society at Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema. Nearly a decade had elapsed since the last retrospective of its kind, held at New York's Museum of the Moving Image in 2013. Much in that way of that retrospective, Janus Films' new series focuses on Wong's cinematic language lifting time-distending characteristics from noir and romantic cinema, amplified by an almost existential ache of unrequited love, which first came to the fore in 1988's, "As Tears Go By", and was expanded upon in 1990's, "Days of Being Wild". Following on the boom years of Hong Kong cinema spanning the late 1980s to end of the 1990s, Wong Kar-Wai set himself part in the field of alternative cinema that developed as the mid-1990s Second Wave, alongside such figures as Ann Hui and Yim Ho. On the heels of his first two efforts, he produced the mid-period classics that comprised the duo of "Chungking Express" and it's more kinetic Hong Kong action and noir-inspired companion, "Fallen Angels". These internationally recognized early films were on the cusp of a string of masterpieces that garnered massive accolades in the global festival circuit, the first of which was seen in 1997's globetrotting "Happy Together". What came next astounded even those familiar with the pleasures of Wong's early filmmography. The duet of films that comprise the sprawling and operatic "2046" and what many, myself included, consider one of the greatest single films of the new century, "In the Mood for Love", in all of it's lush, time abstracted, romance-saturated glory. Topping my personal Films of the Decade list of the first ten years of the 21st Century, "In the Mood for Love" continues to be untouchable to such a degree as to be in a class of its own. It is so precise, tangible and sublime a work of cinematic art as to be one of only three films in the top 100 from the 21st century in The British Film Institute's "Greatest Films of All Time" poll. Not only gaining in recognition as the years pass, it was met with an enthusiastic embrace at the time of release from the global film community, and recognized as the first masterpiece of the new century in the pages of The Guardian, New York Times and Village Voice.

Around this time, hailin the work Wong Kar-Wai brought to cinema screens over the last ten years in tales of modern living, urban alienation, and forlorn love in a dazzlingly intimate, fluid, poetic and fragmented formal register, Senses of Cinema presented their Great Directors feature. Further enshrining "Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", and "2046: A Matter of Time, A Labour of Love". It should be noted that the cascade of colors, texture, light, surfaces, bodies and spaces in motion, that are so much a part of what make up Wong's cinema, have been supplied by the cinematographers Lee Ping Bin, and the masterful Christopher Doyle. These qualities are particularly evident in "The Hand" from 2004's portmanteau film "Eros", here in an expanded cut, which Roger Ebert hailed as the most notable success of the anthology. In the following years there have been many projects in development, particularly the long-gestating "The Grandmaster" based on the life story of the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man, which finally saw the light of the big screen in 2013, in three differing theatrical cuts. The superior of these, the Chinese mainland cut, was screened at The Beacon Cinema in 2019, and watches as something much more than the average martial arts film, but instead a showcase of "Style and Kinetics Triumph in a Turbulent China". This cut being a more substantial representation of Wong's vision of Ip Man, and particularly the intertwined life and legacy of Wudang Chuan masters Gong Yutian and Gong Er, set against the outbreak of the tumultuous period of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Which touches on the multiple readings of Wong's body of work in general. While the most common pathway into his cinematic world is taken by the romantic inner route, such as The New York Times, “In Need of a Film About Romantic Possibility? Try ‘In the Mood for Love”, there's also a deeper historic, external reading as offered by The New Republic's “Wong Kar-Wai’s Masterpieces of Political Uncertainty: The Upheavals of Hong Kong’s History Lie Just Beneath the Surface of His Greatest Films”. Sixteen months have elapsed, the conditions that required its virtual release have abated, and the "World of Wong Kar-Wai" arrives at SIFF Cinema this June. Giving Northwest audiences the opportunity to consider this body of cinematic work through whichever of these two lenses, as they should and essentially be seen, on the big screen.