The Short Films Of Wong Kar-wai
Chinese director Wong Kar-wai is internationally renowned for his cinematic masterpieces, such as Chungking Express (1994) and In The Mood For Love (2000), combining emotional impact with immeasurably exquisite cinematography. Besides these feature films, Wong Kar-wai is one of few directors who also manages to continue to shoot short films despite their virtually non-existent market. These small gems contain just as much depth, narrative and visual style and splendour as their longer counterparts, but often showcase a more experimental side to the director’s filmmaking. Wong Kar-wai currently has seven short films to his name, and here are his best…
I Travelled 9000km To Give It To You (2007, 3 mins)
This was Wong Kar-wai’s contribution to the short film anthology Chacun son cinéma: une déclaration d’amour au grand écran (To Each His Own Cinema, 2007), commissioned for the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. The short featured alongside works by cinematic powerhouses such as Roman Polanski, Alejandro Iñárritu and Zhang Yimou.
The subtitle reads: “a declaration of love to the big screen,” and Wong took this somewhat literally, telling the story of a sensual but brief encounter in the seats of a cinema screen. Featuring Wong Kar-wai’s trademark of deep colours, this time crimson reds and glowing oranges, and an enigmatic narrative, the director allows the cinematography to tell the story, letting the audience decide whether the proceeding events are real or imagined. This lends itself to a common Wong Kar-wai feature of mood and atmosphere over story and plot. I Travelled 9000km To Give It To You is a visual feast that will be especially enjoyed by anyone who liked In The Mood For Love (2000).
Six Days (2002, 4 mins)
Essentially a music video for the DJ Shadow song of the same name, Six Days still holds its own as intriguing and masterful short film. The plot revolves around a man (Chang Chen) trying to forget memories of his unfaithful girlfriend (Danielle Graham). The harder he tries, the more futile he realises this goal is. Over this, the haunting song repeats the line: “Tomorrow never comes until it’s too late.”
This short has the same feelings and atmosphere of 2046 (2004), and, indeed, the continual occurrences of the number 426 within the short film suggest a direct reference. Typical Wong Kar-wai themes of emotional pain and obsession of a lost love, and the incredible cinematography of Christopher Doyle, run in prominence. Physical metaphors are rife, from the smashing a blocks of ice to the martial arts sequence between the ex-lovers. In contrast to many of the most respected music videos, the dream-like onscreen sequences fit the trip hop beat perfectly. The brilliance of this audio-visual marriage between Wong Kar-wai and DJ Shadow makes this video a cut above the rest.
The Follow (2001, 8 mins)
Part of ‘The Hire’ series by BMW, Wong Kar-wai directed this instalment which follows an enigmatic Driver who has been hired by a movie manager to find the wife of a film star suspected of infidelity. Featuring a host of Western stars (including Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke and Forest Whittaker), many elements from the film have close ties with the first half of Chungking Express (1994) – again, a mysterious woman in sunglasses drives the narrative forward seen through the eyes of an man, considered an outsider.
The camera movement and score are blended together beautifully to create an elegantly simple piece that briefly examines the familiar Wong Kar-wai theme of the obsessions of love. The performances are subtle and convincing, bringing depth to the characters within the short time frame, and making great use of a smooth monologue from the main character. Although its primary purpose, as far as the financiers are concerned, is to advertise the cars, the film manages to rise above the level of commercial video, and into the realms of art.
A short film made to advertise new LCD technology by Philips Electronics, and, as such, the film explodes onto the screen in a blaze of neon colour. WKW both wrote and directed the piece that follows the mysterious Agent 006 as she is sent to eliminate the Central Authority’s nemesis, known as ‘Light’. Light is paranoid about anyone seeing and remembering his face, so Agent 006 is voluntarily blinded in order to get close to him. Armed with the ‘Lightcatcher’, she goes to hunt him down, but finds that the personal history between them start to get in the way.
While intended as a commercial, the film easily crosses into realms of art. Other than the opening credits, neither the company nor their product is mentioned. The plot is fragmented and non-linear, allowing greater visual impact, but meaning an immediate second viewing is essential to understand the full subtleties of the piece.
This is one of Wong Kar-wai’s most stylistic films; the psychedelic display of multicoloured lights is both overpowering and dazzling beautiful at once. The emotional intensity is strong and nicely built up within the short time frame. One of Wong Kar-wai’s more experimental pieces, There’s Only One Sun is blast of colour and emotion that pushes the extremities of the director’s trademark style.
Wong Kar-wai’s unique style of stunning visual display and the emotional intensity of the obsessions of lost love are captured brilliantly in his short films. He seems to enjoy a greater freedom with these works, and so his trademark style really comes to the forefront of these pieces. Any film fan should be aware of the smaller but no-less important pieces of cinema – and these four Wong Kar-wai shorts are a fantastic place to start.
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