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Asian Directors: A look at Wong Kar Wai (Hong Kong)

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A svelte lady waits for a friend who is late in an outdoor café, lighting up a cigarette and watching vehicles whizzing by along the streets, the cigarette smoke forming spiral fractal arts in the dark.

A man stands by the shop window, peering over worn blinds into the pavement across the street, looking for approaching shadows that may resemble his lover under the glowing neon lights.

A dancing couple locked in a tango embrace, vacillating between moments of fast speed and slow sensuality, progressively moving as one in a bid to move time.

Lost moments.

This is what Wong Kar Wai captures best and which is what distinguishes him from the other film directors, as well as what sets him apart from mediocrity while embracing excellence.

While the people in the world moves in a frenetic pace as they focus on the needful and wonder where all their time has gone to, Wong Kar Wai’s films bring forward a brief respite for the fatigued life travellers who choose to be sheltered under his filmic creations- at least for a while.

Not escapism per se, Wong Kar Wai’s films fill the gaps in people’s busy lives and provides believable  explanations for treasuring beautiful still movements.

While the world promotes action-oriented lifestyle, his films ride against the tide by advocating the value and benefits of whiling one’s time way. In short, still moments are meant to be still moments and they are not to be displaced by activities and events – a fallacy that is often created by consumerism.

While mainstream directors often pepper scenes with actions and other attention-seeking visual devices, Wong Kar Wai’s films are interspersed with the opposite ingredients- slow moments of indulgence that cause film viewers to be mesmerised by their visual forms.

Cigarette smoke wafting up into the darkness (as seen in “In the Mood for Love” (2000)), a lateral kissing scene in “My Blueberry Nights” (2007) and a tango dance of opening credits in “2046” (2004) are rather avant garde in their visual presentations and Wong may well be the pioneer of these filming techniques.

But to this writer, his best works remain as “The Hand”, a short film segment which is the first to appear in a 3-part film feature “Eros” (2004). With Gong Li’s and Chang Chen’s remarkable acting performances notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that the film’s significance lies strongly in the artistic hands of Wong Kar Wai. His ability to emote sensuality and sexuality without or with the minimal use of any forms of onscreen nudity in this short film can be said to be unmatched.

While the world may choose to offer quick prescriptions of what sells commercially in theatres, Wong choose to take the path less travelled of nolstagia and elegance, of artistic imagery and strong visual style, of lost and unrequited love.

Wong’s films easily form a league of their own, a concealed alley in the streets – hidden from the main pathways that many traverse in their travels.

Watching his films is akin to taking the road less travelled, but for those who have viewed his films, few would deny that they emerged more enlightened and grateful of life.

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