Here, in its final month, is where the National Cinemas project functionally comes undone and reaching for something a little broader becomes preferable, if not essential. You see, it is notoriously difficult, for reasons that exist far outside the world of film, to determine the nationality of many films with partial funding from mainland China. The greatest difficulty comes into play when Hong Kong is involved, and at the risk of avoiding the issue, the debate over Hong Kong’s nationality is very much a topic I am not sufficiently informed in to make my own decision on what shall qualify here. For this reason, this month will include films where the primary language is within the broadly defined group of Chinese languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin etc, and where the funding comes from any combination of the nations of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Not necessarily the best solution, I know, but for the time being It’ll have to do.
If one is to search for designated auteurs in the modern era (and we have precious few in an increasingly arid well), there are a few names that routinely pop up, but chances are that Wong Kar-wai is right up there. Hong Kong’s shining light, he is one of the few Chinese directors to escape the essentialism of international demands for a career in chop sockeying (although even then talented minds like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou have essentially transformed that genre into humanist poetry of color and geometry, so there’s to the talent of Chinese filmmakers to turn pigeonholing into a subversive strength).
Kar-wai’s films are classicist dramas, worldly and weary and aware of their international status in their almost mythic exploration of sighing human drama. They seem like they could have come right off the boat from 1950, but they also know a breathier modern quality, a sense of liveliness never lost to Kar-wai’s all-seeing eye. They reflect an old-school filmmaking mentality seldom seen today, but they are uniquely primed for modern-day China, works equally comfortable with their intimate world in a specific locale and the wide-reaching humanity they dance with and caress in their very specificity. He’s a maker of masterpieces, he is, and if you want to discuss Kar-wai’s intricate perfectionism and impressionist color-as-emotion collages that are at once judiciously composed and free-flowing with spur-of-the-moment zest, you really must begin with the man’s all-time masterpiece among masterpieces, and the best work of cinematic art produced in the still young century to this day: 2000’s In the Mood for Love. Continue reading