Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hua yang de nian hua

 "To Those Who We Remember Fondly." —Wong Kar-wai's Epigraph

Wong's emotional 2 minute 31 second Hua yang de nian hua [The Age of Blossoms / Those Wonderful Varied Years, 2000 — which I believe is the Mandarin title of the feature-length In the Mood for Love, whose Cantonese title means the same] is composed of rediscovered print elements from the earlier age of the Chinese cinema, set to Zhou Xuan's song of the same title. It's a history of the women of this era of the Chinese cinema. It is sentimental in the highest sense. Rhyming shots celebrate Zhou's song, which begins with the opening bars of "Happy Birthday." Rhymes of visual motifs unite into one body of work, edited by WKW's right-hand man William Chang Suk Ping. Feet, stabbing, bombs, dancing, toned to different hues. A work of pure feeling that defies analysis — like a pop song.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Age of Blossoms / Those Wonderful Varied Years (aka In the Mood for Love)

Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow Play Themselves

Hong Kong, 1962. Two separate couples, the Chans and the Chows, chance to take up rooms simultaneously in apartments belonging to the Suen family and the Koo family. As the newcomers move their belongings in, their possessions occasionally get mixed-up in the confusion, what armoire goes to which apartment and so on. Most screenwriters would use this beat as an opportunity for a kind of clockwork that sets in motion, say, a Sundance Lab plot, resolved in an ironic dénouement revealing a misunderstanding that the audience has been privy to since the first act. In Wong’s In the Mood for Love [Fa yeung nin wa, or The Age of Blossoms / Those Wonderful Varied Years, 2000 — the English title is Wong's choice but doesn't appear onscreen], the move and confusion in the tight corridors are but a metaphor that sets up a series of criss-crossed networks among couples. 

(1) Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan) and Mrs. Koo (Koo Kam-wah?) are nearly identical; the one’s apartment is as good as the other's and the two landlords with their friends meet almost nightly to play mahjong with their families. 

(2) The spouses of Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) are having an affair; whether they met at the Suen/Koo households or machinations were put in place to maneuver their both looking at apartments in the same building via their spouses’ inquiries remains unknown throughout and is left to the viewer to infer. 

(3) Mrs. Chan’s boss Mr. Ho (Kelly Lai Chen) is carrying on an affair with one Ms. Yu, and it is Mrs. Chan’s role to act as secretary for the arrangement, along with selecting gifts for the two on his behalf, similar to Mr. Chan’s purchase of matching handbags during his business trips to Japan, both for his wife and for his mistress (Mr. Chow’s wife). She has to put herself in Mr. Ho’s place to buy his wife and his mistress the gifts. 

(4) Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow will role-play the spouses upon discovering their affair in an attempt to ‘understand’ what shifted on the spectrum from courtship to romance. (How did their romance blossom? What are its corridors?) 

(5) Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow will fall in love themselves, with the role-play always having been a kind of pretense for their genuine mutual attraction. 

The shock: Mr. Chow, now separated from his wife, announces to Mrs. Chan he’ll be leaving for Singapore to avoid "the gossip," and he’d like a ticket to go there — she works, if not at a travel office (Mr. Ho is awaiting shipments of some sort at one point), then at a concern that helps to accommodate travel. (One other overlap in the network: Chow’s wife in the oblique images we see of her at the office appears to be positioned at one point upon Chow's arrival at her place of employment directly before a wall of travel brochures.) At this point Chow and Chan admit they’re in love with one another, and now things shift to a rehearsal for Chow’s Singapore departure, thus fully enveloping the ‘game’ and coming full circle in which they play themselves at a more explicit level. Whereas once before they were reticent to grasp hands in the back of a taxi, now the act comes to fruition. Zhou Xuan’s “Hua yang de nian hua” comes on the radio. (The subtitle announces it as “Full Blossom” — from what I can tell it’s a Mandarin representation of this film’s Cantonese title which I believe means “The Age of Blossoms” with a suggestion of “Those Wonderful Varied Years,” as someone once translated it in a text I read years back; I find this exquisitely beautiful.) Chow asks Chan to go with him. Two moments of stasis. 

Singapore, 1963. Chow has managed to have been transferred to The Singapore Daily from his previous newspaper gig in Hong Kong. He comes back to his room one day to find a cigarette butt in the ashtray with lipstick on the filter. Has she broken up with her husband? cf. Fallen Angels's cleaning sequences...

Hong Kong, 1966. Mrs. Chan visits Mrs. Suen. The latter is moving to the US to help out her daughter with her kids. Synchronicity: Mr. Chow also stops by to see the Koos; they've since moved out. Suen tells him "a woman and her kids now live there." It's Mrs. Chan. Mr. Chow doesn't know their identity, and he leaves without encountering her. 

Cambodia, 1967. In archival footage, the prince and princess greet General de Gaulle in Phnom Penh. 

Chow goes to Angkor Wat, and whispers his life into the crevice of the temple, sealing it with mud and straw.

It must be noted that the fetish music cue that Wong uses throughout In the Mood for Love is taken from Seijun Suzuki's 1991 picture Yumeji. Both are perfect films.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Spring Light Bursts Forth (aka Happy Together)

 "Just Turn Around and Find the Right Road"

Just short notes here mostly focusing on the first half, as I'm pressed for time, and if I don't post this now I'll watch the film another five times; it's a big favorite.

The majority of audiences, especially in 1997, were not used to seeing a rough passionate scene of male gay sex within the first five minutes of a film, especially when an explosive spit of saliva is targeted in one of Tony Leung's hands to lubricate his lover Leslie Cheung. I remember that such a scene having been put together by a straight director in Wong Kar-wai caused much confusion at the time of its release. A gay film for straight audiences? A queer film in which each primary figure inhabits a respective reality of pansexuality, although the focus for the narrative's purpose is trained on strictly male homosexuality — there are no jealousy-inducing dalliances by Leslie Cheung, say, on a late drunken night with Blondie or the like. There yet exists a barrier between the mad love of Leung and Cheung (this is the latter's final Wong appearance, before he threw himself off the top of the Mandarin Oriental in 2003). In previous Wong films a lover always waits; in Cheun gwong tsa sit [Spring Light Bursts Forth, aka Happy Together] wait is a burden, a weight. 

"After we broke up, I came to Buenos Aires." These are Leung's words in voice-over which initiate an on-again off-again codependent relationship in the southern city between his character — Lai Yiu-fai —and Cheung's — Ho Po-wing — who will become a male hustler for money, while Leung/Lai will work as a service doorman at an exclusive gay bar till the early morning. ("I don't have white trash taking care of me!") Many of these early sequences are shot in black-and-white (do I remember more than in the previous version of the film, and these are 2021 changes?) or, rather, desaturated to b+w, which flips emotion on its head, even if the film reverts to color some 20 minutes or so in; I'm reminded of Godard's Éloge de l'amour in which the present sequences are truly shot in stunning monochrome, whereas the past is presented in an ultra-saturated color DV image. A stranded, limbo feeling — Leung/Lai steals Cheung/Ho's passport, and hides it somewhere in this cramped room of Van Gogh. Happy Together plays to me like a Russian short story. By the time Chang Chen enters the story and guides it to its fulfillment, I think of Chekhov, the anecdote and the obscured lesson. •