PopCult Podcast – A Wounded Fawn/In the Mood For Love

Love can be painful in a myriad of ways, whether you’re on a weekend date with a serial killer or feeling yourself growing closer to the spouse of the person your own spouse is having an affair. Damn, it’s complicated.

Continue reading “PopCult Podcast – A Wounded Fawn/In the Mood For Love”

Asian Cinema Month – Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled (1992, dir. John Woo)
Starring Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung

A man leaps through the air in slow motion, wielding twin semi-automatic pistols. Carnage ensues. This is the trademark of Hong Kong action director John Woo, who managed to pretty much invent his own sub-genre of action movies. These are stories where black and white are clearly defined, heroes are wise-cracking bad asses, and the villains are most definitely villainous. This was my first foray into the world of Woo, I skipped his Mission: Impossible sequel and shied away from Face/Off. So, after twenty years of hype, how did I find the master actioneer?

Hard Boiled is the tale of two men. Officer “Tequila” Yuen is a cop dedicated to bringing down the Triad gun running ring plaguing Hong Kong. Tony is a cop deep undercover who is the apple of crimeboss Hoi’s eye. Tony is recruited by upstart gangster Johnny Wong to take out Hoi and control crime in the city. Tequila and Tony end up reluctant partners in a crusade to bring Wong to justice. Along the way they form a rivalry over the same woman and end up indebted to each other. Also thrown into the mix is Mad Dog, Johnny Wong’s super hitman with a clear sense of honor in his profession.

Hard Boiled has an interesting problem. Barry Wong, the screenwriter died halfway through film, while he was still writing the screenplay. So Woo and his production staff had to cobble together some place for the film to go. Knowing this, it makes up somewhat for the rather random directions the picture goes in its latter half. There’s also the fact that the character of Tony started out as an incredibly sociopathic character, going so far as to poison baby’s milk. The actor wasn’t too comfortable with playing a character like that and convinced Woo to make him more likable. Alongside this is a very uneven love story between Tequila and fellow officer.

What the film does well is the way it tells its story. Woo is amazing when it comes to framing shots and setting up elaborate sequences that turn normally dull shoot outs into ballet performances. Several times Woo chooses to drop the typical camera shots and go into first person or into some unexpected tracking shot that slowly reveals information to us. He’s also influenced greatly by some unexpected sources, in particular Francois Truffat. If you’ve seen The 400 Blows, than you will recognize that same ending zoom in, freeze frame technique used here a handful of times. It surprisingly works and its impressive that Woo was thinking about such “arty” fare when composing a Hong Kong crime movie. Like I said before, Woo was inventing his own genre at this point in his career.

It’s nothing spectacular. The weak story definitely hurt the film, but there are a number of interesting set pieces, in particular a mob-owned hospital the last half of the film takes place in. The film make use of practical special effects via explosions in way CG just can’t ever mimic. A fun film that hearkens back to an era of uber violent and gaudy over the top crime movies.

Asian Cinema Month – In the Mood For Love

In the Mood For Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar Wai)
Starring Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung

In writing poetry or prose you have a toolbox called language. This toolbox contains things like grammar, syntax, meter, rhyme, etc. Film has a toolbox as well, but is much much larger. And the idea of having more to work with sounds like it would be easier than writing, however more does not equal easier. In the film toolbox you have elements like sound and images. And subsets of sound would be dialogue, character’s accents, soundtrack, sound effects, sound mixing. Under images we find art direction, costume design, lighting, and the most vital of all cinematography. For even the most seasoned artist, misusing these tools is an easy thing to slip up and do. With this feature from director Wong Kar Wai every single tool is used perfectly and produces a flawless example of how rich style can blend with very clear, stated substance.

The film opens in Hong Kong in 1962. Chow (Leung) is renting a room in an apartment building on the same day as So (Cheung). They pass in the hall, barely acknowledging each other. Cut to a few days later and they happen to both be moving in on the same day. Chow’s wife is seen only from behind, her face intentionally not revealed. So’s husband travels abroad to Japan almost every other week and is glimpsed in a similar fashion. The months roll on and both Chow and So become convinced that their spouses have begun an affair. Not knowing how to deal with this they attempt to recreate the circumstances that led their spouses astray with themselves to understand what happened.

The plot is very loose and is carried mostly by the atmosphere created by Wong Kar Wai and his cinematographers, Christopher Doyle and Pin Bing Lee. You rarely see cinema filmed so beautifully and with such delicate craft. I found this to be the kind of film where I don’t remember scenes of dialogue or action, rather I remember images like paintings. Chow sits over his typewriter working on a story and the smoke from his cigarette billows up above his head. The rich detail of every gray tendril of smoke is captured on screen and I felt excitement at such a profoundly beautiful image. The film’s simple theme (a longing tune played on violin) is used repeatedly in scenes where Chow and So are navigating past each other, both physically and emotionally. The camera peeks around door frames, into crowded rooms of neighbors gathered to play cards. We see Chow and So separated by these people who are caught up in raucous laughing, and the tension bleeds off the screen.

The film is able to convey the conservative social pressures of the time. Chow and So meet in his bedroom, merely to share food and must be cautious of Chow’s landlord. They are unable to touch, made clear in a scene where So reaches for Chow’s hand after being caught up in a rare moment of happiness and then quickly withdraws. The film is greatly concerned with absence: the absence of the spouses, the absence of companionship or love, the absence of the spouse’s full identities. A title card that introduces the film reads “the past was something he could see but not touch”, a phrase that sums up what this lush film is all about.