The work of Hong Kong’s enfant terrible of arthouse cinema, the stylish and heart-on-sleeve Wong Kar-Wai, is highlighted this week at a five-day showcase curated by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
It’s not only a rare chance to catch up on Wong’s magnificent back catalogue of features, but to sneak preview 2046, the long-awaited companion piece to In The Mood For Love, his exquisitely beautiful story of doomed romance that garnered a Best Actor gong at Cannes for his regular leading man Tony Leung.
Wong Kar-Wai is deeply interested in the fissures of love, how it fails and fractures our lives and how we live with the wounds it leaves.
His films are drenched in the restraint and longing found in the great on-screen love stories of the Bogart and Bacall era.
There’s a romantic attachment to the glamour and the Latin and swing music of that golden era, which makes his work a visual and aural delight.
It oozes sensuality: from the saturated colours and slow-motion film work of Wong’s frequent-flying cinematographer, Australian Chris Doyle, to the luxurious costumes and production design of Wong’s collaborator and editor William Chang.
It’s there in the richly coloured wood of staircases, in the retro neon lights and the circles of cigarette smoke that trail his characters.
2046, which opens 26 May, is the third film in a loose triptych that lingers around the laneways and corridors of the romanticised Hong Kong of Wong’s 1960s childhood.
Born in Shanghai in 1958, Wong moved to Hong Kong at five, and it is this Hong Kong that is created on-screen in 2046, In The Mood For Love and Days Of Being Wild.
Days Of Being Wild -“ his second feature and the film regarded by many as his masterpiece -“ begins in 1960 with the late canto pop star Leslie Cheung as the indulgent skirt-chasing Yuddi juggling the attentions of two women (Wong muses Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau).
It’s in 2000’s In The Mood For Love that we first meet the handsome Chow (Leung), a married journalist wrapped in an affair that never quite gets off the ground with the also-married Su Lizhen (Gong Li).
In 2046, Chow is back in Hong Kong. It’s the late 1960s, Su Lizhen is gone and Chow has descended the evolutionary ladder to become a playboy writer of science fiction novels.
He moves into the Hotel Oriental where he is drawn to a parade of beautiful women who live in Room 2046.
They include: his drinking buddy Bai Ling, the flirtatious dancehall hostess (Zhang Ziyi from Hero and Hidden Tiger Crouching Dragon) with whom he conducts the most passionate affair but with whom he refuses to spend the night; and his landlord’s daughter, the lovesick Jingwen (Faye Wong), who pines for her Japanese boyfriend.
But it is another Su Lizhen -“ a professional gambler also played by Gong Li -“ who has captured Chow’s heart in Singapore.
Chow wonders if this is because she looks so like his lover in In The Mood For Love.
The number 2046 becomes the title of Chow’s science fiction novel about men and women who go into the future -“ to the year 2046 -“ to recapture their memories and board a train that leaves every hour, to be served by androids that look like their lost loves.
But for Wong Kar-Wai, 2046 has greater meaning. It is the year when Hong Kong gives up its Western freedoms to China. In Hong Kong in 2046, Wong, I think, believes many will be looking to recapture lost memories as Hong Kong is dislocated from its wild and independent self.
Dislocation and loneliness recur frequently in Wong Kar-Wai’s work. Be it the lonely cops and restless waitress in Chungking Express or the unrequited love between cousins in Wong’s debut feature As Tears Go By, Wong’s characters are often filled with the unsettling longing and pain that comes with living in regret for the past.
In Happy Together, Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung play gay lovers who are more often off than on together, so ironic is the film’s title.
Set in the breezy night streets of Buenos Aires to a soundtrack of nuevo tango by Astor Piazzolla, Happy Together is based on a novel by Manuel Puig and is a lush and rough gay love story of two expatriate Chinese trying to find their feet in a culture so distant from their own, richly lensed by Chris Doyle whose adventurous work is an exercise in sensuality itself.
Also screening in the Focus On Wong Kar-Wai showcase is the doco Buenos Aires Zero Degree by directors Amos Lee and Kwan Pun-Leung.
It explores the chaotic filming of Happy Together through the use of outtakes and previously unused rushes in order to understand Wong Kar-Wai’s remarkable vision.
Focus On Wong Kar-Wai screens at Dendy Opera Quays from Saturday 14 May to Wednesday 18 May. Wong Kar-Wai’s new film 2046 opens 26 May.