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. •

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Fallen Angels

 Do Her Fingers Tremble from Love? / Take Out

155 weeks of being partners in crime? They're both on drugs! 

It's all true. "ENICAR" the clock sponsor is "RACINE" backwards. Does Michelle Reis love Leon Lai? It's like asking a desk receptionist. "Hold on, if you can take a seat, I'll..." 

We are meant to think from the opening 10 minutes that Reis is Lai's cleaning woman. She is. They also link up as it stands to commit assassinations. The name of this film is Duo luo tian shi [1995/2021], which  translates literally or so I can tell to something essentially like, more or less, Fallen Angels. There's that slash up there next to 1995 signifying 2021. So basically, my understanding is, Wong worked some of the sequences (as I believe he did in the previous pictures) but here also reframed it into 2.35:1. Without regard to lenses it should be noted. Just a cropping of the original 1.85:1 frame to 2.35... I could talk about the ramifications of this with regard to Wong's film but I won't now except to say that I think the new framing is very beautiful, and allows the mise-en-scène to focus more succinctly upon elements within the frame.

"'Cause I'm cool..." — Every actor-principal in a Wong film is given an invisible backstage pass of sorts to stride through commercial kitchens — But — not so fast: isn't this how we encountered Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express? (Bear in mind this is not the sole connection between these films and, indeed, Wong envisioned Fallen Angels as more stories that would be linked to Chungking Express, hence the blonde hair, the clocks, expiration dates, obviously Kaneshiro would have been someone else in him.)

Lai's identity is basically null, until that moment on the public bus when a crazed ex-grammar-school friend whacks him with a newspaper and exclaims "Ming!" Oh christ. "Ming" has to brandish a wallet-photo he's bought for the occasion: him with a Black woman and a mixed child. There's no reaction from the schoolmate beyond something that suggests these are interchangeable, ethnic nuclear family. And yet these two meeting on the bus and recognizing one another speaks to something of specificity, meaning overlapped seasons in schools. It is here where Chungking Express's "California Dreamin'" must bleed over into the second film implicitly.

"My name is Ho Chi-moo," pronounces Takeshi Kaneshiro about 20 minutes into the film. He is at once and is not the policeman from Chungking Express; his badge number is now a prisoner number. What's more, he can no longer speak following the eating of expired peaches when he was a child. Now he only sees the world via his stare through a video camera. And this he trains upon his father.

Imagine receiving a coin marked "1818" for a jukebox from one you love. You'd get down on your knees and pretend to pray. This is a film about leaving today. But it's impossible.

"Forget him / And it's like forgetting everything... / It's like losing all direction / Losing oneself..."

Those are the lyrics. Pick up a loosey-goosey in a McDonald's. Make a girl masturbate in tears. Aren't there invisible threads between particular bodies?

Back to Ho Chi-moo and his girl "Charlie Young" (Charlie Yeung). I read my notes like a police officer. It says here that there was quite a kerfuffle at the restaurant behind Charlie and Chi-moo. Their life is an aquarium, and more beautifully put in Coppola's Rumble Fish.



Other writing about Wong Kar-wai at Cinemasparagus: