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With: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
MPAA Rating: PG-13/Unrated
Language: Cantonese, etc. with English subtitles
Running Time: 500
Date: 18/03/2013

Wong Kar-wai Collection (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Ships Passing in the Night

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Wong Kar-wai Collection on DVD

Kino's new five-disc box set, "The Wong Kar-wai Collection" goes a long way towards establishing one of the best and most elusive filmmakers alive today.

Wong was unheard of here until, in 1996, Tarantino managed to release Chungking Express (1994) in the United States. Most of Wong's other films arrived similarly late. His follow-up film Fallen Angels (1995) made its way here in 1998, about the same time as his 1997 film Happy Together. Days of Being Wild (1991) will apparently receive its first official US release this year, only 13 years late. (Though I saw it at a specialty house back in 1996 or 97.)

Working most often with the innovative Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong has developed a striking visual style, using floating, neon colors and extreme angles, to tell his emotionally rending stories of couples who pass in the night, more often than not failing to connect.

The box set now puts the films in proper perspective and even gives us Wong's first two films As Tears Go By (1988) and Days of Being Wild on home video and DVD for the first time.

As Tears Go By features the gorgeous Maggie Cheung in her first serious role. It finally convinced a generation of Hong Kong movie fans that she could really act, and not just play Jackie Chan's airhead girlfriend (Project A II, Supercop: Police Story III). Coming in the middle of the HK New Wave, and telling yet another Triad gangster story, it doesn't distinguish itself as a great debut. Yet it's an excellent film, fluid in its use of color, slow motion and other flashy techniques, combined with street realism. Andy Lau plays a tough guy who is saddled with a loose-cannon "younger brother" who continually gets himself into trouble. Lau becomes torn between his loyalty toward his friend and his love for his naïve country cousin (Cheung).

Days of Being Wild has passionately divided audiences since its debut in 1991, winning several HK awards, but registering as a box office flop. It's possible that hero Leslie Cheung's abominable behavior in the film turned off fans. (Cheung is probably best known as the clean-cut younger brother in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow.) In the film, Luddy (Cheung) is a serial seducer who picks up and abandons women without a thought. When he seduces a beautiful shop girl (Maggie Cheung), it starts a La Ronde-like chain of events that significantly changes the lives of everyone involved. Andy Lau plays a cop who later befriends one of Luddy's cast-off girlfriends. Tony Leung Chiu-wai also stars and was to have been the subject of an abandoned sequel. Beautifully and atmospherically directed, Days of Being Wild is officially the first Wong Kar-wai film.

Probably his most beloved film, at least in the United States, Chungking Express tells the stories of two lonely policemen. The first picks up a dangerous woman in a blond wig (Brigitte Lin in her last film appearance), and the second doesn't realize that a cute counter girl at a food stand is breaking into his apartment and slowly redecorating it. This beautiful, quirky film is much lighter in tone than Days of Being Wild and is probably a good place to start for new viewers. Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung and Faye Wong co-star.

Wong's most stylistically dense film, Fallen Angels, is said to be an unofficial sequel to Chungking Express, a third chapter for that film that didn't quite fit. It, too, follows a series of lost, sad characters who can't ever seem to relate. The most poignant involves a woman (Michele Reis) who works nights for a hit man (Leon Lai Ming) whom she may be in love with but never sees. The film is Wong's most visually striking, with Wong and Doyle constantly inventing intoxicating new angles for every shot. Takeshi Kaneshiro also stars.

Happy Together showed Wong moving in a more mature direction, away from pure style and into more complicated emotional patterns. In this film, the characters can see and touch each other, but they still can't quite connect. The story concerns a gay couple (Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung) living in Buenos Aries and unable to do anything as their relationship slowly deteriorates. Wong's subsequent, In the Mood for Love (2001), is its stylistic and thematic cousin.

Sadly the box set is incomplete. Tai Seng Home Video owns the rights to the astonishing martial arts film Ashes of Time (1994) and the Criterion Collection has released the definitive Region 1 DVD of In the Mood for Love.

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