Criterion Announces: World of Wong Kar Wai

For some time we have been expecting Criterion to announce the release of a Wong Kar Wai box set, and the day finally arrived! World of Wong Kar Wai will be released on March 23, 2021. It will feature seven of the director’s feature films and includes a host of supplements. This is going to be a wonderful set, but there is some criticism out there that is worth listening to. Namely, several of these films have been reworked by Wong, and it doesn’t seem that the original versions will be included here. I am one of those people who has issues with a director revising their work years later; in theory, I’m okay with it as long as the original is still in tact and made available, but I’m not a fan of ignoring the original versions. All that said, as I happen to have the original versions of a few of these, I’m all in on this box set. I cannot wait for it, in fact!

Here is Criterion’s blurb for the set:

With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema. Joined by such key collaborators as cinematographer Christopher Doyle; editor and production and costume designer William Chang Suk Ping; and actors Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Wong (or WKW, as he is often known) has written and directed films that have enraptured audiences and critics worldwide and inspired countless other filmmakers with their poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory. Whether they’re tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, the seven films collected here are an invitation into the unique and wistful world of a deeply influential artist.

Now, let’s look at the films included.

As Tears Go By (1988)

Wong Kar Wai’s scintillating debut feature is a kinetic, hypercool crime thriller graced with flashes of the impressionistic, daydream visual style for which he would become renowned. Set amid Hong Kong’s ruthless, neon-lit gangland underworld, this operatic saga of ambition, honor, and revenge stars Andy Lau Tak Wah as a small-time mob enforcer who finds himself torn between a burgeoning romance with his ailing cousin (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, in the first of her iconic collaborations with the director) and his loyalty to his loose-cannon partner in crime (Jacky Cheung Hok Yau), whose reckless attempts to make a name for himself unleash a spiral of violence. Marrying the pulp pleasures of the gritty Hong Kong action drama with hints of the head-rush romanticism Wong would push to intoxicating heights throughout the 1990s, As Tears Go By was a box-office smash that heralded the arrival of one of contemporary cinema’s most electrifying talents.

Days of Being Wild (1990)

The breakthrough sophomore feature by Wong Kar Wai represents the first full flowering of his swooning signature style. The initial entry in a loosely connected, ongoing cycle that includes In the Mood for Love and 2046, this ravishing existential reverie is a dreamlike drift through the Hong Kong of the 1960s in which a band of wayward twentysomethings—including a disaffected playboy (Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing) searching for his birth mother, a lovelorn woman (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk) hopelessly enamored with him, and a policeman (Andy Lau Tak Wah) caught in the middle of their turbulent relationship—pull together and push apart in a dance of frustrated desire. The director’s inaugural collaboration with both cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who lends the film its gorgeously gauzy, hallucinatory texture, and actor Tony Leung Chiu Wai, who appears briefly in a tantalizing teaser for a never-realized sequel, Days of Being Wild is an exhilarating first expression of Wong’s trademark themes of time, longing, dislocation, and the restless search for human connection.

Chungking Express (1994)

The whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express is one of the defining works of 1990s cinema and the film that made Wong Kar Wai an instant icon. Two heartsick Hong Kong cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu Wai), both jilted by ex-lovers, cross paths at the Midnight Express take-out food stand, where the ethereal pixie waitress Faye (Faye Wong) works. Anything goes in Wong’s gloriously shot and utterly unexpected charmer, which cemented the sex appeal of its gorgeous stars and forever turned canned pineapple and the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” into tokens of romantic longing.

Fallen Angels (1995)

Lost souls reach out for human connection amid a glimmering Hong Kong in Wong Kar Wai’s hallucinatory, neon-soaked nocturne. Originally conceived as a segment of Chungking Express only to spin off on its own woozy axis, Fallen Angels plays like the dark, moody flip side of its predecessor as it charts the subtly interlacing fates of a handful of urban loners, including a coolly detached hit man (Leon Lai Ming) looking to go straight; his business partner (Michelle Reis), who secretly yearns for him; and a mute delinquent (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who wreaks mischief by night. Swinging between hard-boiled noir and slapstick lunacy with giddy abandon, the film is both a dizzying, dazzling city symphony and a poignant meditation on love, loss, and longing in a metropolis that never sleeps.

Happy Together (1997)

One of the most searing romances of the 1990s, Wong Kar Wai’s emotionally raw, lushly stylized portrait of a relationship in breakdown casts Hong Kong superstars Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing as a couple traveling through Argentina and locked in a turbulent cycle of infatuation and destructive jealousy as they break up, make up, and fall apart again and again. Setting out to depict the dynamics of a queer relationship with empathy and complexity on the cusp of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong—when the country’s LGBTQ community suddenly faced an uncertain future—Wong crafts a feverish look at the life cycle of a love affair that is by turns devastating and deliriously romantic. Shot by ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle in both luminous monochrome and luscious saturated color, Happy Together is an intoxicating exploration of displacement and desire that swoons with the ache and exhilaration of love at its heart-tearing extremes.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Hong Kong, 1962: Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite—until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them. At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. With its aching soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bing, this film has been a major stylistic influence on the past two decades of cinema, and is a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career.

2046 (2004)

Wong Kar Wai’s loose sequel to In the Mood for Love combines that film’s languorous air of romantic longing with a dizzying time-hopping structure and avant-sci-fi twist. Tony Leung Chiu Wai reprises his role as writer Chow Mo-Wan, whose numerous failed relationships with women who drift in and out of his life (and the one who goes in and out of room 2046, down the hall from his apartment) inspire the delirious futuristic love story he pens. 2046’s dazzling fantasy sequences give Wong and two of his key collaborators—cinematographer Christopher Doyle and editor/costume designer/production designer William Chang Suk Ping—license to let their imaginations run wild, propelling the sumptuous visuals and operatic emotions skyward toward the sublime.

These are special films, delicate all-time favorites. While they may be presented with revisions, I still think this is an important set to pick up.

You can watch a trailer here.

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