Just when we need them most, Wong Kar Wai is here to reassure us that love, sex and obsession can outlast anything. Now, thanks to the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive, the Roxie Cinema and the Criterion Collection, we can lock our doors and curl up in the dark with the visions of the world’s most romantic filmmaker, as if nothing else mattered.
Prompted by Criterion’s lavish home video package of 4K digital restorations of his work, BAMPFA and the Roxie now offer Wong’s greatest hits for streaming, beginning with what may be the sexiest film ever made, In the Mood for Love (2000). What is there left to say about the tantalizing story of a man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and woman (Maggie Cheung), each married to other people, whose paths cross in a Hong Kong rooming house in 1962—except that cheongsams and high humidity go together like gin and tonic. This is the film that made Wong, Cheung, Leung and cinematographer Christopher Doyle international superstars.
1994’s Chungking Express, set in and around HK’s labyrinthine Chungking Mansions shopping complex on Nathan Road, is almost as much of a thrill as In the Mood for Love. Two frantic cops-and-babes plot threads, a full house of charismatic actors (pixie-ish Faye Wong, blond-wigged Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro and the aforementioned Leung) and the seemingly never-ending presence of The Mamas & The Papas on the soundtrack. In a nutshell, it’s the epitome of Kowloon-fornia Dreamin.’
More must-sees: Days of Being Wild (tropical nostalgia plus the requisite fisticuffs); The Hand (part art-house weepie, part fetish extravaganza, an expanded segment of the omnibus film Eros—imagine Camille giving her devoted admirer a hand job from her deathbed); Happy Together (a wistful, Buenos Aires–set gay romance between Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai); and 2046, a style-drenched search for lost times, starring a galaxy of movie queens including Gong Li, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung. For more info: BAMPFA.org; Roxie.com; Criterion.com.
To the Ends of the Earth
Veteran Japanese writer-director Kurosawa Kiyoshi never stops pushing boundaries and getting on the audience’s nerves. Early in his career, his Pulse and Séance caused nightmares among hipster horror fans. Later, Kurosawa developed his version of social and environmental consciousness in such psychological dramas as Doppelganger and Tokyo Sonata. Always, the common denominator of any Kurosawa Kiyoshi film (no relation to Kurosawa Akira) is that you’ll walk away with anxieties that never occurred to you before.
His latest to reach stateside, 2019’s To the Ends of the Earth, seems poised for catastrophe in the tale of a reality-TV star (played by J-pop idol Maeda Atsuko) who wanders off the beaten path while on assignment to search out fun things to do in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan (huh?). Everywhere she turns in Tashkent we fear the worst for naive Yoko, who is mystified by this entirely outlandish culture. But the age of monsters has passed. We fear more for her at the hands of her disdainful all-male production crew. Their tendency is to ignore her reportorial instincts, use her up and throw her away. A penetrating portrait of the pitfalls of modern life—but Kurosawa should have ditched the imitation Sound of Music finale.
Also available streaming from KimStim.com: Kurosawa’s 2002 sci-fi puzzler Bright Future; the odd, disturbing account of an eccentric, a maniac and some killer jellyfish. Sweet dreams.
“World of Wong Kar Wai” is now streaming via the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive and the Roxie Cinema. “To the Ends of the Earth” begins streaming Dec. 18.