Tag Archives: Christopher Doyle

Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-Wai)

Chungking Express has two parts. First part is lonely young plainclothes cop Kaneshiro Takeshi counting down the days to his birthday, which is also thirty days since his girlfriend of five years dumped him. Simultaneously, sort of middle person drug trafficker Brigitte Lin loses her latest batch of mules (once they’re loaded up with the coke in luggage and person and at the airport, they run off when she’s buying the tickets). If Lin can’t find them, her creep boss (Thom Baker) will have her killed. Director Wong opens the film with stylized slow motion action; Kaneshiro running through the crowded Hong Kong streets after a suspect or something, almost bumping into Lin (who’s in a blonde wig, raincoat, and sunglasses—at night—all movie). Kaneshiro, narrating, explains he’s just come so close to Lin without meeting her and in two days, he’ll be in love with her. So presumably Express is going to be that story. And it is that story. Until it turns out Lin and Kaneshiro’s violent, melancholy romance is just a warm-up. A mood prologue.

The second part is Faye Wong and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. Leung is a different cop, a little older, and in uniform. Wong works at the counter-only restaurant where Leung gets his coffee. And where Kaneshiro also gets his coffee. But there’s no crossover. Director Wong really did just do a warm-up. Because even though Kaneshiro is the narrator at the beginning, eventually Lin gets some. And her narration is the best in the film. She’s been a complete mystery—sort of unsympathetic but funny as she bosses her mules around, but still sympathetic because Baker’s clearly got some weird thing going on with her, which she might not even know about. You get to know her from her actions and behavior, not narration like Kaneshiro. When Lin does get the narration and makes a revealing statement or two, they send these shockwaves through the rest of the first story. She doesn’t get much narration and even though Kaneshiro gets a bunch, he becomes secondary. It’s clearly Lin’s story. Even though she never goes to the restaurant so has no crossover with kindly owner Chen Jinquan.

Chen gives romantic advice to Kaneshiro, who spends most of his time in the film at the restaurant waiting for his ex-girlfriend to call him. He has this great subplot about expired pineapple. He’s a complete sad sack and comically naive in his narration. Meanwhile, Lin’s sometimes mercurially merciless. There’s this fantastic contrast between their two stories. Wong has some of the same styles—the slow motion action sequences all work the same—but there’s some other visual distinction. Chungking Express is an exemplar of how narrative distance and style can work together while going at very different speeds. It’s awesome.

If Wong wanted, it could be neo-noir. But instead it’s a deliberate drama with Lin and Kaneshiro sometimes meeting in their orbits and how it affects them.

Back to Faye Wong and Tony Leung. Director and writer Wong gives them this third act story with the narrative distance changing to transition things along. It starts as an echo of the first story. Lovelorn cop, wise owner. Only this time there’s Faye Wong. She starts as a foil then becomes the protagonist. Not just of the story, but of the film. Director Wong went through the first part so we could see Faye Wong’s story, which almost entirely without narration as she starts stalking Leung. Comically and lovably, but definitely stalking. Director Wong always keeps this really light mood to Faye Wong hanging out in Leung’s apartment and messing with his stuff. He never breaks from the film’s sharp visual focus. While Express is a film about quiet, sometimes private moments between people, Wong uses the enormity of the city—artificially muffled, but still sharp-as the stage for those moments. That style—infused with bubbly—just further spotlights the film on Faye Wong. It’s jarring when director Wong changes the pace for the third act.

The first story takes place over two and a half days. There’s even a clock involved; the dates of the present action matter to the story and characters. Well, to Kaneshiro anyway. The second story is very loose in pacing, but also extremely precise. Director Wong only wants to give so much of the story at each point in the story. It’s a relaxed pacing, much different from the first story, much different from the beginning of the second story itself. Wong slows things down and lets the film enjoy itself. Faye Wong and Tony Leung are both really charming in the film. The first story is the neo-noir romance, the second half is the romantic comedy, and they’re almost exactly the same, stylistically. But without Faye Wong narrating even through her longer scenes. There’s more time without narration. A lot more. And there’s an entirely different sense of danger. It’s a wryly comedic one, done in a style where there’s no wry comedy. Because more than anything else—even a spectacular vehicle for Faye Wong—it’s this sad sack romantic drama about these two cops who can’t get over their heartache. And they don’t understand how their potential romances exist away from them. In very, very different ways, but it’s a definite echo. It’s a beautifully constructed narrative, beautifully edited as it plays out on screen narrative. Director Wong and his crew do… I don’t know, I’m running low on positive adjectives. The film’s technically breathtaking.

Great photography from Christopher Doyle and Lau Wai-keung. Great editing from William Chang, Kai Kit-Wai, and Kwong Chi-Leung. The film wouldn’t work without them. Or the music. Frankie Chan and Roel A. García’s score is awesome. The use of popular music is awesome. And essential. It’s magnificent.

Wong’s the best performance, then Leung, then Lin, then Kaneshiro. Kaneshiro’s still great. Chen’s perfect as the restaurant owner. Valerie Chow’s good as Leung’s ex-girlfriend because Leung’s so much the second story protagonist for a while he gets flashbacks. For a movie where Leung’s always walking around in tighty-whiteys, there are also some lovely romantic scenes. Director Wong and the crew bring the sexy for the salad days flashbacks, bringing yet another style into the film, which Wong still keeps once Faye Wong takes over, even though the narrative content has changed.

So astoundingly good. Chungking Express is astoundingly good. I’m livid at myself for not seeing it sooner.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai; directors of photography, Christopher Doyle and Lau Wai-Keung; edited by William Chang, Kai Kit-Wai, and Kwong Chi-Leung; music by Frankie Chan and Roel A. García; production designer, Chang; produced by Jeffrey Lau and Chan Yi-kan for Jet Tone Production.

Starring Brigitte Lin (Blonde), Kaneshiro Takeshi (Zhiwu), Faye Wong (Faye), Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Cop 663), Chen Jinquan (Manager of ‘Midnight Express’), Valerie Chow (Air Hostess), Thom Baker (Drug Dealer), and Zhen Liang (May).


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In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)

In the Mood for Love runs under a hundred minutes. Its present action is somewhat indeterminate, but less than a year total and a few weeks for the longest continuous sequence. As for the length of that continuous sequence, I’m not sure. There’s such a smoothness to William Chang’s editing. It’s calm and measured. It’s not always slow–it often isn’t, especially in the first half of the film, where director Wong and Chang show time transitions through change in dress. With such a concise runtime–and so many ambitions for the film’s visual narrative (which is somewhat separate from the plot)–Wong has to prepare the viewer for the film.

That preparation involves very tight narrative control–this scene leads to this scene, but Wong is actually building to a reveal. Only, since it’s at the beginning of the film, it’s unclear what reveal is supposed to be the most important reveal. At a certain point, In the Mood for Love should be able to be cut into two pieces. Big reveal, whenever it comes, should split the film. Except Wong’s stylistic approach in that first half, how the camera movements, how the framing of characters, it provides such a strong foundation there’s no split. And by not splitting, Wong’s better able to focus the narrative in the second half. In the Mood for Love is a guided tour of its story, with Wong relying on his actors to break through on another level, the tragic one. The actors create the characters, not the script or even Wong’s visual motifs for shooting them. It’s Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They’re the ones who get it done.

Great photography, great music. Wong’s got a nostalgic way of being realistic portraying the early sixties setting. The best example is probably how he uses Cheung’s dresses to establish a narrative flow and how he can also use them to disrupt the narrative. It’s all so precise, all so delicately done. The film has these slow motion sequences, but Wong keeps them all entirely separate. The way he’s progressing the visual narrative, he finds different reasons to get to the same technique. It should be complicated, but because of how Wong establishes the visual “language” in the first act, it isn’t.

Everything works–like Lam Siu Ping’s goofy sidekick for Leung or Rebecca Pan’s nosy but nice landlady. Thanks to Wong, his crew–and because of Cheung and Leung–In the Mood for Love achieves something singular. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai; directors of photography, Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-leung and Lee Ping-bin; edited by William Chang; music by Michael Galasso and Umebayashi Shigeru; production designer, Chang; released by Block 2 Pictures.

Starring Maggie Cheung (Mrs. Chan), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Mr. Chow), Siu Ping-Lam (Ah Ping), Kelly Lai Chen (Mr. Ho) and Rebecca Pan (Mrs. Suen).


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Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai)

Director Wong crafts Days of Being Wild as a series of vignettes, only with the film’s principal character never the protagonist of any of these vignettes. Wong and editors Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam go for lyrical transitions (or none at all); combined with the emptiness of Wild’s Hong Kong (busy places at times they aren’t busy), there’s palpable mood. Terry Chan’s music, which evokes sixties pop (only desperate), is also essential.

That main character who never gets to be protagonist is Leslie Cheung. He’s a lothario–the film opens with his seduction of shopgirl Maggie Cheung before he moves on to dancer Carina Lau. The first act of the film, which establishes all the characters, is the most unlike the rest. Wong makes verbal reference to off-screen characters who later become important, he makes sure the viewer understands all the relationships. The vignettes don’t start until the second act (so I guess Leslie Cheung does get to be the protagonist for a bit in the first act).

But once the vignettes start, beginning with Maggie Cheung’s return to the film and her friendship with Andy Lau (as the police officer whose beat includes Leslie Cheung’s building). Then it’s Carina Lau’s turn. She sort of shares her time with Rebecca Pan (as Leslie Cheung’s adoptive mother).

Wong isn’t concerned with making his characters likable. No one likes Leslie Cheung, not even his friends–Jacky Cheung, as his sidekick, is just as much a conquest as any of the women–but Carina Lau’s pretty awful too. Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau could both be read as saints, but Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle don’t much go for sainthood. There’s darkness and fuzziness to everyone, with the possible exception of Pan. Even though she should be despicable (she bought Leslie Cheung from his birth mother), she’s still extremely sympathetic. Maybe because she’s so self-aware.

Great performances from Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung. Leslie Cheung and Jacky Cheung are both effective, but–until the third act–the real problem with Wild is Leslie Cheung’s far from the most interesting character Wong’s got going here. Even though Andy Lau’s got a bland role to play (sturdy guy), he potentially has a lot more depth than Leslie Cheung.

Then the third act comes along and Wong decides he wants to try out an entirely different kind of film (stylistically, each vignette has its own feel) and it doesn’t work out. Maybe because it’s Andy Lau’s vignette about how he runs into Leslie Cheung later on and they have a misadventure. It feels forced. Everything else is organic. That final vignette, with its melodramatic action, just doesn’t work out.

By the time Wong brings everyone else back in for the wrap-up, it feels like he’s trying to cover. He can’t.

Days of Being Wild is still a beautifully made film, beautifully constructed narrative. It’s just the plotting (and perspective) where Wong is off.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Jeffrey Lau; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam; music by Terry Chan; production designer, William Chang; produced by Rover Tang; released by In-Gear Films.

Starring Leslie Cheung (Yuddy), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Andy Lau (Tide), Carina Lau (Leung Fung-ying), Jacky Cheung (Zeb) and Rebecca Pan (Rebecca).


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Tormented (2011, Shimizu Takashi)

Near as I can recall, Tormented is my first modern Japanese horror movie. Somehow, I’m still familiar enough with the genre to know this one’s highly derivative. The writers throw in something else ominous every few minutes just to keep the picture moving–and it’s only eighty minutes so they clearly didn’t have any initial story, just the idea of 3D scares.

Only, there aren’t any scares. Not even the giant rabbit (on loan from the States and Donnie Darko) can be chilling. Why? Because Tormented looks like something a bunch of kids shot on one of their dads’ camcorders in 1998. If one were being polite, he or she could call Christopher Doyle’s photography amateurish. Incompetent is a better word, however. It’s a tragedy, actually, given how well Doyle used to shoot film.

Director Shimizu doesn’t do the film any favors either. He tries for subtle visual scares and fails. He tries for 3D wonderment and fails. He doesn’t have a single decent shot; adequate composition doesn’t rely on lighting. Doyle’s responsible for Tormented looking flat and lifeless. Shimizu could at least get a good angle in occasionally.

Oh, I forgot about the mute sister. She’s the protagonist (or at least narrator–but she’s mute, see how uncanny it is!), though she shares that focus with her little brother. Mitsushima Hikari plays the sister. She’s weak, but vaguely okay. Shibuya Takeru is terrible as the kid.

Kagawa Teruyuki plays the dad. He’s surprisingly okay.

Tormented’s an awful picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shimizu Takashi; written by Hayashi Sôtarô, Hosaka Daisuke and Shimizu; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; music by Kawai Kenji; production designer, Ikeya Noriyoshi; produced by Ogura Satoru and Tanishima Masayuki; released by Phantom Film.

Starring Mitsushima Hikari (Kiriko), Shibuya Takeru (Daigo) and Kagawa Teruyuki (Dad).


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