Wong Kar Wai And Hollywood Cinema Film Studies Essay

The world today is essentially a bifocal world. Filmmakers everywhere are concerned with their own national cinema, and then with Hollywood. The world today is divided into Hollywood and a serious of national cinema. As the most successful and influential Asian cinema outside Japan and India, [] Hong Kong cinema as a transnational cinema, has so successfully emulated Hollywood to the extent that it has now been integrated by Hollywood. In this regard, commercialization and entertainment are what Hong Kong cinema and Hollywood cinema concentrated on. Especially Hong Kong cinema, due to it situates in a democratic and liberal society. The filmmakers have no boundary or limitation in filmmaking. Therefore, they pursue the film’s aesthetics and entertainment more than the fact of the society. Also, Hong Kong absorbs influences from the West and went on to localize and indigenize foreign cultures. And the community in Hong Kong has a strong link with its traditional Chinese culture, in many aspects had developed its own Hong Kong culture as well. So to speak, Hong Kong cinema has a strong sense of east-west identity.

“The geography, history and unique cultural identity of Hong Kong inhabitants have inevitably shaped the territory’s cinema. Hong Kong’s adaptability to change, cultural diversity and cosmopolitan lifestyle has led to a dynamic output of films that portray a distinct Hong Kong psyche.” [] 

The film of Wong Kar-wai attests to this tradition of filmmaking. “Wong as the second New Wave of Hong Kong filmmaker who continued to develop the innovative and fresh aesthetic initiated by the original New Wave.” [] Since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China, the local film industry was inclined to art-cinema wing instead of the action (Kung fu) tradition. And Wong’s offbeat works got the world recognition even though he stands apart from the mainstream Hong Kong cinema. In the following paragraphs, the argument will be focused on Wong Kar-wai’s postmodern films in a relationship with Hollywood style.

The narrational aspect of plot manipulates story time in specific ways. Jean Epstein summarized the relationship between narrative and time in the classical Hollywood film: [] 

After dramas supposedly without endings, here is a drama which would be without exposition or opening, and which would end clearly. Events would not follow one another and especially would not correspond exactly. The fragments of many pasts come to bury themselves in a single now. The future mixed among memories. This chronology is what of the human mind.

Contemporary Hollywood filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino, for example in his Pulp Fiction (1994, USA) uses the juggle story and plot time in ways that recall the complex flashback of the 1940s. Moreover, the switches in Pulp Fiction are not motivated as characters’ memories; the audience is forced to puzzle out the purposes served by the time shifts. In some of Wong’s film, flashback has another expression.

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In Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000, Hong Kong), the flashback applies to only one conceal scenario which begins with the male protagonist Chow Mo-wan (Leung Chiu-wai) [] finds something is gone in his home, end with he notices there is a lip print on a cigarette. But it doesn’t tell us what stuff he missed and who stole it until the coming scene of Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) [] comes (she comes to Chow’s home before), we realize the complete plotline. Unlike the flashbacks in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir dog (1992, USA) which is merely focuses on the rhetorical disposition of the narrative for the sake of suspense or surprise. Wong’s flashback technique is more incline to highlight the aesthetics in actors’ performance relate to the important scenario. Like this scene, the two protagonists’ much-loved themes of loneliness, isolation, and longing rise to the surface.

David Bordwell summarized the relationship between narrative and space in the classical Hollywood film: [] 

In making narrative causality the dominant system in the film’s total form, the classical Hollywood cinema chooses to subordinate space. Most obviously, the classical style makes the sheerly graphic space of the film image a vehicle for narrative. We can see this principle at work negatively in the prohibitions against ‘bad’ cuts. ‘The important subjects should be in the same general area of the frame for each of the two shots which are to be cut together,’ but ‘as long as the important subject is not shifted from one side of he screen to the other, no real harm is done.’ In describing the classical cinema’s use of space we are most inclined to use the term ‘transparent,’ so much does that cinema strive to efface the picture plane. ‘The screen might be likened to a plate-glass window through which the observer looks with one eye at the actual scene.’

Contemporary Hollywood filmmakers have sometimes explored what has been called the “web-of-life plot.” [] Instead of two primary lines of action, the tendency of the films pursues a large number of plotlines, often involving many characters. In the 1990s, such films as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. The every single plotlines seem completely have nothing to do with another story, but usually they split off and converge from one and another. In Pulp Fiction, there are 3 stories, each one based upon specific characters. And the narratives are circular as well as intersected. The theme of the uncanny and destiny arises ranging from Butch (Bruce Wills) and Vincent (John Travolta), they meet each other for twice. First time they meet in a bar without a direct conversation. In the next time is concerned with Butch goes home for his watch (the only stuff his dead father left him) and comes across Vincent (implicitly come to assassinate Butch) in his toilet then kill him. In this regard, the sequence in the whole plotline is mysterious. Despite Vincent is already dead in the previous story, we still see him in the final part of the story in a restaurant with Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). Continue the unfinished story at the beginning.

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In Wong Kar-wai’s film, he doesn’t follow this Hollywood narrative tradition. In Chungking Express (1994, Hong Kong), Wong creates a new style of narrative causality in space-time which he blends the theme of gangster and romantic-comedy together. This is the apparent feature of post-modern film. Seen from Wong’s Chungking Express, it constitutes an intriguing experiment in nonclassical form. It has only about 6 major characters, but it is broken into 2 distinct stories, each organized around a different batch of characters and presented one after the other. Since both male protagonists are lovelorn men and policemen, originally we might expect them to encounter one another, but they never do. Even when the first story finish, everything related to the first story never appears again apart from one same locale. In Chungking Express, the connection between these two stories is they do share one locale: Both Officer 1 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) [] and Officer 2 (Leung Chiu-wai) hang out at the Midnight Express. Nonetheless, this doesn’t connect these two parts. The characters in these two separate plots seem no intersection with each other. Merely the Officer 1 meets Faye Wong [] once in the Midnight Express. Afterwards, the next story starts whereas Officer 1 never appears again in the next narrative. And the second obscure connection is while the mysterious blonde woman (the female protagonist in the first story) lounges outside a shop, Faye (whom we do not meet until part two) leaves with a stuffed toy (perhaps destined for Officer 2’s apartment). Apparently, Faye is juxtaposed into these two “coincidences” by Wong’s strategy in order to invite audience to seek the connections and unify the two parts of the film.

From Chungking Express, we can see another general style in Wong’s filmmaking. First of all, the notion of time is a pervading concept in all of Wong’s films. In the first part of Chungking Express, officer 1 obsessively eats cans of pineapple with the expiry date of the 1st of May, for him, May 1st is his girlfriend’s birthday also it’s the end of their love. He convinces that everything has an expiry date, including love. However, for the female drug trafficker, May 1st is the end of her life if she could not find the group of Indian who stole her stuff. Indeed, Wong’s films may not be directly or overtly political, however there is often an “indirect relation to the political” via Wong’s conveying of “a particularly intense experience of the period as an experience of the negative; an experience of some elusive and ambivalent cultural space that lies always just beyond our grasp”. [] In addition, Wong always ignores the characters’ identity, background and family. We just know they call cop 223 and cop 663. Despite they have a home. We can only see the pineapple cans with expiry date and cop 223’s desperation from this place. Cop 663’s home is insecure. Faye often invades his home regardless of without aggressiveness. At the same time there is an escalator located beside his home, it is totally exposed in every passerby’s eyes when go through it. Therefore Cop 663 lives under the unstable circumstance. Here, implicitly, once again Wong reveals people’s prospective confusion to their own identity related to the forthcoming handover in 1997. Thirdly, not only in Chungking Express, but also in most of his oeuvre, characters’ affection is the center of the attention. And Wong adores keeping them in the Platonic relationship. Rarely see the sexual scenes in Wong’s film but the love between the two characters are aesthetic and pure. In the first part of the story, Officer 1 and the blond woman stay in a room without doing anything. Nevertheless, after Officer 1 leaves then he receives a happy birthday message from the blond woman. Obviously she still remembers May 1st is Officer 1’s birthday because he told her last night, despite she gets into the trouble.

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Through Wong’s oeuvre, Hong Kong becomes a metaphor for the characters and their varied existence. It represents an urban pastiche in which individuals struggle to come to terms with a sense of detachment and loneliness despite the territory’s high-density population. Wong’s endless array of possible scenarios and the navigation of his protagonists’ internal and external journeys in turn constitute an unravelling and reconfiguring of spatio-temporal constrictions. [] Hong Kong’s unique identity with its fusion of Chinese and Western culture and complex history provides opportunities for Wong to reveal and concerns with issues as varied as identity, emotion, future, etc via his frame. To some extent, we can define Wong’s cinema is Hollywood in the way of expression such as the crosscutting, jump cuts and fragmented images. But as a poetic auteur, sees him delve into ‘moments’ that are linked to both history and the personal in Hong Kong’s community, whether directly or indirectly. Notions of identity and the ever-present fusion between East and West find context in the themes of love, loneliness and alienation that pervade his protagonists. Even though Wong doesn’t belong to the mainstream in Hong Kong cinema, his films are never and ever being the foolproof and top grossing films. Nonetheless, we can not deny his contribution to Hong Kong film industry.


Pulp Fiction- Quentin Tarantino, 1994, USA

Reservoir Dog- Quentin Tarantino, 1992, USA

In the Mood for Love-Wong Kar-wai, 2000, Hong Kong

Chungking Express-Wong Kar-wai, 1994, Hong Kong

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