In The Mood For Love (2000)

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Hero (2002)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In a period of Civil War, a ruthless king is poised to take over all of China. All that stands in his way are three assassins–Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. For 10 years, they have thwarted his efforts, and personally tormented him, to the point where he can neither sleep, nor remove his armor. Now, though, after more than a decade, a Nameless Warrior claims to have slain them all. To see if this is true, the King summons the swordsman to his palace, and ask to hear how he achieved such an impossible feat. As the Nameless Warrior talks, however, the King starts to suspect that he may not be who he says he is, and that he might have ulterior motives for being there.

Hero is colorful, melodramatic, beautifully-choreographed, and surprisingly philosophical. It is a film that I loved when it first came out, and that I can appreciate even more, now that I know about all the effort that goes into movie-making. From a purely technical perspective, it’s perfect. The shot composition, use of color in costumes and sets, editing, music and fight choreography are all flawless. It holds up after 15 years, and for good reason. Every single earthshaking,gravity defying moment was done by actual stuntmen, with practical effects. Yes, it’s all very heightened, but it all looks real. Because it is real. And that makes it so much better. The movie is also surprisingly thought-provoking. Most people go into martial arts films expecting pretty visuals, but not much else. Hero, however, takes a more grounded approach to its storytelling and characterization, and actually has some pretty interesting things to say. At its core is the question of what is more important, the greater good, or personal loyalty, and I, for one, think it handles that topic with both care and insight. All of this can be found in the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, played by my all-time favorite screen couple, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. They are lovers torn apart by that central question; what’s more important to me, loyalty or good? By the movie’s end, both are left (literally) heartbroken, because of their inability to compromise. Their downfall is both a joy and a torment to watch. And, as always, they’re chemistry is effortless.

Now, with all that said, I’m not above admitting that this film has problems. Some are simple matters of personal taste. Others are larger, and story-related. The biggest, for me, is the fact that you don’t know the characters too well. This is due, in large part, to the fact that we see the same story unfold multiple times, from different perspectives, like in Rashoman. In each version of events, the character’s personalities and goals are changed to fit the views of the teller. In one version, for instance, Broken Sword and Flying Snow are petty, jealous and violent. That’s because the narrator wants us to think they are. In another version, however, they are shown as loving, loyal, and willing to do anything to keep the other safe. That’s because the new narrator views them that way. As such, you don’t get to know the characters very well. Or, at least, not until the end. The dialogue is also very on the nose and melodramatic, with no one sounding like an actual human. Yes, that’s to be expected for a martial arts period piece, but still. The third flaw, and the one that matters most to me, personally,  is the way the film treats Zhang Ziyi’s character. She plays Broken Sword’s assistant, Moon. In one version of events, she is his lover.  Or, rather, in that version, Broken Sword is angry at Flying Snow, and so he more or less rapes Moon to make Snow jealous. Yes, the film implies that Moon has feelings for him, and I suppose that’s meant to make his assault of her slightly less awful. But he does still grab her without warning, throw her to the ground, rip her clothes off, have his way with her, and then kick her out. And the movie does show Moon crying after this, so I’m not sure how to feel. When I first saw this film back in 2004, I was only about 9 years old. I didn’t know what sex, let alone rape, was. And yet, even then, when I watched this scene, I got upset. Something about it felt wrong to me, and it still does, all these years later. It’s my least favorite aspect of an otherwise awesome movie, and if you do watch the film, maybe fast forward through that part.

But, all in all, Hero’s visual brilliance, strong performances, epic score and gripping narrative more than make up for its flaws. And they certainly make the picture, as a whole, worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Days Of Being Wild (1990)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Contrary to what it’s title might lead you to believe, Wong Kar-Wai’s Days Of Being Wild is NOT a raunchy comedy about rebellious youngsters living free and easy. Rather, this moody, atmospheric, and virtually plotless Hong Kong drama film focuses on emotionally abusive relationships, and how the time we spend together still impacts us long after that time has passed. I love it, and most mainstream critics these days agree that it’s a very well-made movie but, sad to say, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first released back in 1990, critics and audiences despised it. So much so that the director actually had to wait a whole decade before making another movie. Fortunately for him, that next film, In The Mood For Love, was both a critical and commercial success, even getting nominated for the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

But, returning to my original point, many of the problems that people had with Days Of Being Wild back then were ones that I too had the first time I saw it. Critics said that it was a film without a story–all conflict, and no resolution, and I can certainly see why they’d think that. The movie’s plot, if you can call it that, is essentially just a series of episodes in the life of York (Leslie Cheung), an angst filled, fearful of commitment man, and his one-sided relationships with stadium worker Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and dancer Mimi (Carina Lau). There’s no real inciting incident, no rising action, no climax, and by the time the end credits roll, we’re left with several unanswered questions. What happens to York? What happens to Mimi and Li Zhen? Do either of them get over the heartbreak York put them through? Does York stop being so cruel to women, or does he go right on being his nasty, manipulative self? Needless to say, this movie is seriously wanting in the area of closure. In addition to this, it possesses several scenes and subplots that don’t really add to the overall story, and never get addressed after they’re brought up. In one scene, for instance, York and Mimi are in bed making out, and then, for no reason whatsoever, York’s friend climbs through the window, says a line, and then leaves the way he came. Why he decided to scale a four story wall just to make some chit chat and not take the stairs beats me, as well as everyone back in 1990, but, honestly, that kind of logical thinking doesn’t work with Wong Kar-Wai. He is, in many respects, a slightly less surreal, Asian version of David Lynch, in that his movies often make no sense, but are still enjoyable because of their emotional content.

And that, I think, is where Days Of Being Wild’s true genius lies. Yes, it doesn’t really have a plot, and yes, it does leave a lot of questions unanswered, but, the emotions of the characters are so powerful, so real, that you almost forget about all those other things. Everything about the picture, from the grey, overcast color scheme, to the mournful, jazzy soundtrack, to the subdued, yet striking acting of all the leads, conveys a strong sense of depression and hopelessness. You really feel how much pain these people are in, and the movie does an excellent job of illustrating how long that pain can last–the film includes several lengthy shots of clocks, and the passage and meaning of time is a frequent topic of discussion. And as for all the ambiguity at the end, I actually kind of liked that because, in the real world, we don’t always get the answers we want. In fact, most of the time we don’t. Can you really say you know what’s happened to every friend, teacher or lover you’ve had in your lifetime? No, of course not. Plus, there have been lots of successful movies made–Inception, Lost in Translation, Oldboy–that didn’t give us total closure, and yet were lauded by critics and audiences for this very reason. Why were we comfortable with their ambiguity in those stories, and not with the ambiguity in this one? So yes, Days Of Being Wild has virtually no story, and it fails to answer all our questions, but its acting, soundtrack and color scheme all convey the thoughts and emotions of its characters so well that you feel as though they’re your own, and by god, that must count for something! 8 out of 10. Give it a look!

PS–to all the readers of my blog, thank you for staying with me for so long. Please, please, please leave comments about which pictures you’d like me to review or analyze. I want to give you all the most enjoyable blog-reading experience possible. Nathan