Wong Kar-Wai found commercial and critical success in Hong Kong with his debut film, As Tears Go By, which grossed over HK$11 million and received a handful of awards and nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Wong used this success to help him make a more personal follow-up, Days of Being Wild. This didn’t make as much money as its predecessor, but was even more critically acclaimed and had a unique stamp to it that would shape Wong’s career to follow.

Wong’s next film, Ashes of Time was an ambitious project that subverted the wuxia traditions popular in Hong Kong cinema. It proved to be a long, difficult production. Long enough, in fact, for the director to find time within a two-month break to devise and shoot another film, Chungking Express.

This swiftly made palette-cleanser ended up being released two months before Ashes of Time and proved, in many ways, to be a much more important film for Wong. Ashes of Time was quite well received by critics, but underperformed at the box office for a relatively big-budget film. Chungking Express didn’t make much money either, but, most importantly, it got picked up by Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder distribution company under Miramax. This, added to some great reviews, helped push Wong into the international spotlight. He became a director to watch in the eyes of cinephiles around the world and his subsequent films enjoyed wide distribution and much festival acclaim.

The peak of Wong’s career so far is widely believed to be 2000’s In the Mood for Love, which picked up a raft of awards on its release and has since cropped up in numerous ‘best films of the 21st-century’ lists and even made it to number 24 in Sight & Sound’s prestigious 2012 list of the greatest films of all time.

The Criterion Collection have now made Wong Kar-Wai the subject of their latest hefty retrospective Blu-ray box-set, putting seven of his most acclaimed films together in a collection called ‘World of Wong Kar Wai’. Wong was one of the first foreign-language directors whose work I really got into when I was younger, so I’ve long been a fan and simply had to snap up a copy of the box-set. My thoughts on each film and the set as a whole follow below. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll try to keep the individual film reviews short.

As Tears Go By

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Jeffrey Lau, Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Alex Man, Ronald Wong
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1988

Wong Kar-Wai’s directorial debut, As Tears Go By, sees a gang member, Wah (Andy Lau), struggle to keep his younger ‘brother’ Fly (Jacky Cheung) under control. Wah specialises in strong-arming people into paying what is owed to the gang and Fly tries to get in on the action, so he can rise up the ranks. With his hot temper, however, on top of a lack of influence or fighting skills, Fly continues to either get himself hurt or land the pair in hot water, particularly with fellow gang-member Tony (Alex Man).

Meanwhile, Wah’s cousin Ngor (Maggie Cheung) comes to stay with him whilst she gets an illness checked out at the hospital. She’s from a completely different world, so to speak. Straight-laced and kind, she’s the antithesis of Wah. Despite their differences, the pair fall in love, but Wah’s life and troubles with Fly continue to get in the way of their relationship.

As Tears Go By sees Wong make a Hong Kong version of Mean Streets. The main plot points are very similar and the use of music, flashes of violence and stylised camerawork and editing all show a clear Scorsese influence. Wong hadn’t found his own voice at this point and, as such, the film doesn’t have his clear stamp on it, like the rest of his work. It feels more like a ‘director-for-hire’ gig, in this sense.

That’s not to say the film isn’t up-to-scratch though. As a gangster drama, it’s very effective. The action scenes are well-staged – often short, sharp and violent and utilising some impressive camerawork in places. There’s an exhilaratingly fast tracking shot through a pool hall, for example. The unusual ‘jerky’ slow-motion technique that he would repeat in many of his later films is used here too.

Pop music, though not as heavily used as in his future work, is also brilliantly utilised. The prime example is the pivotal love scene, when a Cantonese cover of ‘Take My Breath Away’ is used in the build-up to Wah and Ngor’s first kiss. It sounds like a cheesy attempt at a Top Gun knock-off, but it’s surprisingly effective, aided by the performances of the ever-reliable Lau and Cheung.

So, overall, As Tears Go By sees Wong do his best Scorsese impression in a stylish, well-executed, but ultimately derivative crime drama. There is clear evidence of his talent here but the material lets him down somewhat. Nevertheless, taken as a Hong Kong gangster movie, it’s very good, even if, as a Wong Kar-Wai film, it’s lower tier.

Days of Being Wild

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Jeffrey Lau, Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Rebecca Pan, Jacky Cheung, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1990

Days of Being Wild centres around Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), a callous womaniser living in Hong Kong in 1960. The relatively shy Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) falls for him and they strike up a relationship but, as expected, Yuddy treats her badly and casts her aside.

Yuddy next starts seeing the lively but insecure Mimi (Carina Lau). Their fiery relationship lasts for a while but, once again, they split up. We watch as Li-zhen falls into a depression before finding solace in talking to police officer Tide (Andy Lau). Mimi’s reaction to her break-up is more self-destructive.

Meanwhile, we follow Yuddy as he tries to find out who his real mother is. His aunt Rebecca (Rebecca Pan) brought him up and previously told him that she wasn’t his mother but refuses to let him know who is.

As mentioned in my introduction, Days of Being Wild established Wong Kar-Wai’s style and identity. The dream-like look of the film, with its low-key lighting and use of unusual angles and compositions, comes partly from cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who would collaborate on six more of Wong’s film’s following this (including the rest of the titles in this set).

Away from the visual style though, Days of Being Wild more closely follows the themes of many of Wong’s later films. The sense of longing and disconnection faced by the characters is something examined regularly in his filmography.

The way the story is presented, using infrequent voiceover and a fractured, disorientating approach to editing, is another common trait to Wong’s work. The director is known for starting projects without a script, beginning with only a basic concept and location, then improvising with the actors and having the film develop as it’s shot. I can’t find evidence to say for certain (the special features on the first two films are sparse), but I’d guess this approach was not used on As Tears Go By but was certainly utilised here in Days of Being Wild. It has a similar free-wheeling vibe to the later films in this set, with a plot that unfolds at a very leisurely pace, whilst time is instead spent wallowing in the characters’ issues.

It’s in this character-focused approach that I both admired and was a little put off by the film. The performances are excellent and the cast get a chance to really dig into their roles, but my problem was that I really didn’t like the Yuddy character. I’m not sure the audience is supposed to like him, but having someone so unpleasant as a central focus makes it hard to warm to the film itself.

Overall though, through fully introducing Wong Kar-Wai’s style to the world, Days of Being Wild has all the languid sensuality of his later work, as well as his gift for crafting philosophical poems of unrequited love and heartache. Its cruel protagonist makes the film hard to fall in love with, but Wong’s direction keeps you intoxicated nonetheless.

Chungking Express

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Faye Wong, Valerie Chow, Jinquan Chen
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1994

Chunking Express tells two stories of love lost and gained in modern-day Hong Kong.

The first story follows He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a young policeman who’s just been dumped and can’t let go of his ex. He gives her a month to prove she’s serious about leaving him, buying a tin of pineapples with the expiry date of the end of the month every day until that date comes.

Meanwhile, we also follow a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) who is helping run a smuggling operation that goes sour. At the end of He Qiwu’s month, the pair bump into one another and form a short-lived but transformative relationship.

The second story focuses on another spurned police officer, number 663 (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). He’s lost his zest for life following a breakup with a flight attendant (Valerie Chow). Faye (Faye Wong), who works at the fast-food stand he frequents, falls in love with 663 and, when she happens upon a set of his house keys, she proceeds to regularly clean and rearrange his house over a period of time, without him knowing, in an attempt to cheer him up.

I hadn’t seen As Tears Go By or Days of Being Wild prior to working my way through this box set, but Chungking Express is an old favourite of mine. Reportedly, Wong Kar-Wai was bothered that some critics had labelled his work as ‘slow cinema’, so he countered this by making an infectiously fast-paced celebration of life (albeit with splashes of violence and melancholy). In this sense, though it shares similarities with Days of Being Wild in its stylish cinematography, loose narrative and cast of disconnected lovelorn characters, the approach is totally different.

More buoyant pop music is pushed front and centre on the soundtrack, colours are bright and vibrant, and the characters are much more quirky. There’s a good deal of offbeat comedy in the film in fact, from He Qiwu’s bizarre tinned pineapple crusade to Faye’s cheeky regular re-jigging of 663’s apartment. The quirk levels threaten to rise too high, particularly when 663 talks to the objects in his room, but Wong gets away with it, aided by his intoxicating style.

The cast are excellent again, but it’s one of the least famous actresses that shines brighter than the rest. Faye Wong is best known in Hong Kong as a singer, but Wong Kar-Wai made a great choice casting her in the film. Her pixie-like free-spirited personality is a joy to behold. Again, in the wrong hands her character could have been annoying, but it works perfectly here.

All in all, Chungking Express is an infectious film that’s brimming with life. It’s quirky but never irritatingly so, and intensely romantic without becoming cloying or sentimental. Beautifully directed, it’s Wong Kar-Wai at possibly his most fun.

Fallen Angels

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung, Karen Mok, Fai-Hung Chan, Man-Lei Chan
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1995

Fallen Angels once again tells two different stories, but this time intercutting between them throughout the film.

One story centres on Wong Chi-ming (Leon Lai), a hitman that’s grown disillusioned with his work. His ‘partner’ (Michelle Reis), though never working directly with Chi-ming, is obsessed with him. Chi-ming seems to share a love for his partner, but doesn’t feel it would be appropriate to have a relationship with her. He tries to take his mind off his partner by spending time with the slightly unhinged Blondie (Karen Mok). When his partner finds out about this new relationship, she’s devastated.

The other story concerns the mute delinquent He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro). He lives with his father (Man-Lei Chan), who despairs at his wild behaviour. Most notably, Zhiwu spends his evenings hijacking people’s businesses that are closed for the night and often forcing passers-by to pay for his services. During his exploits, he meets a troubled woman named Charlie (Charlie Yeung) and the pair form an unusual bond.

Fallen Angels originated from Chungking Express. Originally, that film was supposed to be made up of three stories but, in planning it, Wong Kar-Wai realised the first two would be too long so they couldn’t sensibly fit the third in. Also, the other two stories worked as a nice parallel to each other so the third would have felt disparate. So, Wong thought, why not make the third story its own film.

Originally, Fallen Angels was thought of as being a sequel to Chungking Express in this way but then Wong realised it didn’t quite work like that. Instead he felt it should be like the opposite side of Chungking Express. Whereas that shows Hong Kong in broad daylight, Fallen Angels looks at the city at night.

There are, nevertheless, quite a few similarities between the films and some have criticised Fallen Angels for not being as marked a departure from its predecessor as Wong’s other films had been from each other. Personally, I have no issue with the fact it feels like a kind of follow-up. The shift in atmosphere is notable, with scenes bathed in dark shadows and neon lights, and the stories feel unique, even if the theme of urban disconnection and loneliness remains.

There are again comic touches in the film, particularly in how Zhiwu repeatedly forces his ‘services’ on the same character he happens across on several evenings. Zhiwu is Fallen Angels’ Faye, another offbeat, wild but lovable character, albeit one with more aggressive tendencies.

As is to be expected, Wong and Doyle’s visual stylings are eye-popping. The film looks gorgeous, soaked in dingy neon colour, and is punchily edited. Wong knows how to get a real sense of place in his films, particularly Hong Kong. It becomes a living, breathing character of its own here.

The use of music is, once again, exemplary. Tracks are a bit more modern than before, for the most part, with “Because I’m Cool” by Nogabe “Robinson” Randriaharimalala used frequently. It samples the excellent Karmacoma by Massive Attack.

Fallen Angels then, is another hyper-stylised ode to urban disconnect. It freewheels it a little more than Chungking Express, so meanders a touch at times but remains a quirky, ultra-cool, sensual pleasure.

Happy Together

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Based on a Novel by: Manuel Puig
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Chen Chang
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1997

Happy Together sees Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung play the couple Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-Fai, respectively. The pair travel to Argentina from their home country of Hong Kong but fall out and split up on their way to visit Iguazu Falls.

Both broke, the men are forced to work in the country to be able to afford tickets home. Fai gets a job as a promoter for a bar and Po-Wing becomes a sex-worker. Though separated, their paths cross and their relationship is rekindled.

The arguments continue though and the pair’s relationship falls on rocky ground again, before Po-Wing is badly injured in a fight and Fai must care for him for a while. This brings them closer for a time, but Po-Wing takes advantage of Fai’s support and Fai becomes controlling and suffocating, so the relationship fizzles out yet again.

As Fai grows more angry at Po-Wing, he forms a close relationship with his co-worker Chang (Chen Chang), who may or may not be gay himself. Po-Wing, though separated from Fai once again, becomes jealous at what he sees as his partner cheating on him.

Reportedly, with Hong Kong being handed back to China in 1997, Wong Kar-Wai was expected to address the issue in his follow-up to Fallen Angels, as had many other ‘second wave’ directors. Surprisingly, however, given the rich depiction of Hong Kong in his previous films, Wong decided to set his next film abroad.

There are, however, comments on the handover subtly present in Happy Together. For one, homosexuals living in Hong Kong were facing an uncertain future following the handover, due to the Chinese being less accepting of them. So, making a film about two men in love but in a difficult relationship seems to be making a point. Having his central pair leave their home country too seems relevant.

Regardless of any political undercurrents, Happy Together sees Wong make a film that seems a little more grounded, naturalistic and perhaps more mature than his previous work.

Though the film stills looks stunning and is artfully constructed, the pace of the editing is slower than Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, and there’s less of a playful manner to its style.

The focus, therefore, is more firmly placed on the characters and their relationship, without too many stylistic flourishes causing distraction. I particularly like the fact it treats a homosexual relationship very much like any ‘straight’ relationship on film, rather than use it to examine issues of prejudice and discrimination, which most similar dramas had done up to that point. Fai and Po-Wing are simply a couple and this is presented as normal and universal, as it should be.

I must admit, however, that I didn’t personally find myself emotionally connecting with the characters. I don’t think my being heterosexual has anything to do with this, but I often struggle to engage with stories of turbulent, aggressive relationships. The infidelities and fiery nature of these don’t settle with my own approach to life, perhaps, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t find myself particularly moved by Fai and Po-Wing’s troubles.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny that Happy Together is another masterfully crafted film from Wong. Stylistically it’s more restrained than his earlier films, yet it’s still beautifully shot and boasts a wonderful soundtrack, as usual. Even if the central relationship didn’t click with me, I still appreciated the rich, nuanced portrayal. Bolstered by wonderful central performances and a strong sense of place, it’s a fine piece of filmmaking.

In the Mood For Love

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Tung Cho ‘Joe’ Cheung, Rebecca Pan
Country: Hong Kong, China
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 2000

Set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, In the Mood For Love sees Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play neighbours Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen (a.k.a. Mrs. Chan). They form a friendship after bumping into each other in the hallway and crossing paths whilst going out for noodles in the evening.

The pair develop an even closer bond when they discover their spouses are sleeping with each other. Chow and Su try to understand how it could have happened, through role playing scenarios. As they spend more time together, however, the couple find themselves falling in love with each other. Determined not to repeat the infidelities of her husband, however, Su is hesitant about taking their relationship any further.

In the Mood For Love seems more classically produced than the other films in the set. It feels more carefully composed and scripted, though the film was, in fact, another case of Wong bringing the actors together with only a loose idea of what the film would become, crafting the story and scenes with the leads, as they went along. It’s a testament to his skill at operating in such a free-spirited fashion that the film seems so refined. In many ways, you could say In the Mood For Love is less exciting and dynamic than most of his other films, but it remains stunning in its own restrained, subtle fashion.

That’s not to say the film isn’t stylish though. Working with three cinematographers this time, Pun-Leung Kwan, Ping Bin Lee and Christopher Doyle, Wong and his team crafted a sumptuous-looking work of art, in which every frame could be hung on your wall. This isn’t only down to the cinematography though. William Chang, who has worked on all of Wong’s films, was the costume and production designer, and his sets and costumes here are stunningly evocative. Not only does he bring 60s Hong Kong alive, he makes everyone look damn good.

Chang was also the editor on many of Wong’s films, including this, and his work in that field shouldn’t be forgotten. With Wong shooting a lot of footage with his improvisational approach, the story really comes together in the edit. In the special features, the cast of Wong’s films often talk about how excited they get to see how it all pans out in the end. Looking at the numerous deleted scenes included on the disc for In the Mood For Love, a lot of more lighthearted and explicit scenes were recorded, which might have made the film much less subtle and restrained. I’m sure Wong had a say in the editing process too, but the input of his most regular collaborator, Chang, can’t be ignored.

Once again, the soundtrack is fabulous. As usual, most of the music comes from pre-recorded tracks but a composer did provide a couple of cues here. The main theme, which is often repeated, is a song originally from a Seijun Suzuki film, Yumeji, part of his well-regarded ‘Taisho Trilogy’. Like the film, it has a seductive, yet melancholic quality. There’s a dance-like elegance to the theme and much of the rest of the music in the film too. Wong likes to play music on set to create the appropriate mood and it helps the movement of characters sync beautifully with the soundtrack.

Overall, In the Mood For Love is Wong Kar-Wai’s most measured and restrained work to date. It’s a quietly moving film made with striking grace and beauty. Driven by two superb performances, sublime music and some of the most gorgeous visuals put to celluloid, it’s an undisputed masterpiece.

2046

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Carina Lau, Chen Chang, Jie Dong, Maggie Cheung
Country: Hong Kong, China, France, Italy, Germany
Running Time: 129 min
Year: 2004

2046 is a sequel to In the Mood For Love, which in turn was a loose sequel to Days of Being Wild. It presents us with Chow (Tony Leung again, of course) a few years after the events of the previous film. He’s back in Hong Kong but very much a changed man now, after his time spent in Singapore. He still hasn’t gotten over Su Li-zhen, but is over-compensating for that loss by being with many women.

He regularly holds extravagant parties and no longer is the quiet, restrained man we knew before. As he spends time with different women and learns more about their pasts, he puts their stories into a sci-fi serial he is writing, called ‘2046’.

The number 2046 has significance as the hotel room he would stay in with Su, and he tries to move into it to write his stories. Due to it being renovated he makes do with 2047 instead and stays there once he grows used to it. The various residents of room 2046 become the subjects of his writing though. These include Lulu (Carina Lau, reprising her role from Days of Being Wild), Wang Jing-wen (Faye Wong) and Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi). We also get a flashback story about a different Su Li-zhen (Gong Li).

In amongst watching these various dramas unfold, we also see segments of Chow’s book recreated on screen. Set in the future, his story sees Takuya Kimura play Tak, a man travelling on a train making a seemingly never-ending journey away from a mysterious place called 2046, where people go to recapture lost loves. Tak is the only person to have ever attempted that journey back from 2046 and, on the train, he falls in love with one of the android attendants (Faye Wong), who looks a lot like the lost love he was trying to find in 2046.

Wong Kar-Wai says in an interview that “I think 2046 is like a summary of all my movies”. This can be seen in the direct references to In the Mood For Love and Days of Being Wild but also in revisiting different themes from throughout his work. Once again we have lonely single people longing for loved ones that are often just out of reach. This ‘summary’ feel of the film, however, leads to why I don’t rate 2046 as highly as most of the other titles in the set. Like a ‘greatest hits’ compilation, it offers everything you love about an artist, but as a whole it doesn’t have the satisfying cohesiveness you get with a standard album.

The key problem is that 2046 has so many individual plot strands. I wouldn’t call it a mess. The stories are generally told in order without too much bouncing around, so it’s easy to follow. However, it makes the film as a whole feel a little piecemeal. The Bai Ling story is given the most screen time and, as such, it feels the most substantial and engaging, aided by a wonderful performance by Zhang Ziyi. Elsewhere, the stories don’t quite take hold in the same way, though Wong and his cast deliver some powerful moments throughout, nonetheless. Gong Li, in particular, delivers some of the film’s most emotionally devastating sequences.

As mentioned in my earlier ‘greatest hits’ analogy, 2046 does still deliver what Wong Kar-Wai is famous for though. Once again, the film looks and sounds glorious. Though the CGI looks a little dated and jagged around the edges, the sci-fi sequences are awash with bold colours and beautiful lines and curves. The 60s scenes are also stunning, gorgeously recreating that period in Hong Kong, as in In the Mood For Love.

The music, much of which is composed by Shigeru Umebayashi (who wrote the ‘Yumeji theme’ used heavily in In the Mood For Love), often has an grand, sumptuous feel to it, befitting the more epic scale of this sequel.

Overall then, cinematic artistry is here in 2046 in abundance but the story and characters are lacking something. As such, although the film is a visual and aural treat, it feels overlong and meandering in comparison to its perfectly formed predecessor.

World of Wong Kar Wai is out on Blu-ray on 31st May in the UK, released by The Criterion Collection. The films all look and sound fantastic. Some of the earlier titles have a fairly thick grain, due to the stock used to shoot them, but this is handled nicely. Most importantly, the colours look stunning, richly transferred to digital. The audio sounds pristine too, with the music coming through particularly well.

There has been a little controversy leading up to the release of the set though, as it was rumoured that Wong was altering the films – tweaking colours, changing the credit sequences and even re-editing a couple of scenes. This is indeed true and the director has issued a statement about it:

Personally, I feel Wong justifies his changes and, from my memory of the four titles I’d previously seen, he hasn’t affected the overall feel and quality of the titles. Completists might want to hold on to those old DVDs and Blu-rays as well as purchasing this though.

There are plenty of special features included in the set:

– New 4K digital restorations of Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and 2046, approved by director Wong Kar Wai, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
– New 4K digital restorations of As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
– New program in which Wong answers questions submitted, at the invitation of the director, by authors André Aciman and Jonathan Lethem; filmmakers Sofia Coppola, Rian Johnson, Lisa Joy, and Chloé Zhao; cinematographers Philippe Le Sourd and Bradford Young; and filmmakers and founders/creative directors of Rodarte Kate and Laura Mulleavy
– Alternate version of Days of Being Wild featuring different edits of the film’s prologue and final scenes, on home video for the first time
– Hua yang de nian hua, a 2000 short film by Wong
– Extended version of The Hand, a 2004 short film by Wong, available in the U.S. for the first time
– Interview and “cinema lesson” with Wong from the 2001 Cannes Film Festival
– Three making-of documentaries, featuring interviews with Wong; actors Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chang Chen, Faye Wong, and Ziyi Zhang; and others
– Episode of the television series Moving Pictures from 1996 featuring Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle
– Interviews from 2002 and 2005 with Doyle
– Excerpts from a 1994 British Film Institute audio interview with Cheung on her work in Days of Being Wild
– Program from 2012 on In the Mood for Love’s soundtrack
– Press conference for In the Mood for Love from the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival
– Deleted scenes, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes footage, a promo reel, music videos, and trailers
– PLUS: Deluxe packaging, including a perfect-bound, French-fold book featuring lavish photography, an essay by critic John Powers, a director’s note, and six collectable art prints

It’s perhaps not the most extensive set of special features Criterion have put out, if you break it down film-by-film. The earlier titles are particularly light on extras. However, In the Mood For Love is loaded with features and there are a couple of lengthy pieces dotted around the set as well as plenty of short featurettes. It’s a shame there are no commentaries though.

Chris Doyle provides numerous short interviews across the set. He seems a little intoxicated in a few of them and comes across as a bit of a dick at times (for want of a better term) but he’s a talented guy so I’ll give him some slack. He does offer some interesting stories about how things were done too. For instance, I love the fact the apartment in Chungking Express was actually just his own.

Maggie Cheung’s interview on Days of Being Wild is short but illuminating, discussing the intended sequel and expressing her great love for the film.

I must admit I only watched the start and end of the alternative version of Days of Being Wild. The changes to the end are minimal but it opens quite differently, starting with shots from the Tony Leung scene before going into the main story.

The deleted scenes on a couple of the titles feature Wong discussing the films in general, so they’re well worth checking out. The deleted scenes themselves from Chungking Express are particularly intriguing. One shows ‘Blondie’ without her wig, as well as offering quite an expansion of the He Qiwu and Blondie story. There are some nice bits from the other story too, though they spell out what’s going on a little too much in places. Likewise with the deleted scenes from In the Mood For Love. They’re nice to see here in the set but would have spoilt the understated tone of the final film, so I’m glad they were cut out.

The ‘Moving Pictures’ fragment has Wong and Doyle discuss the film and explore some of the locations. They talk about all of their films up to Fallen Angels. Once again Doyle’s a bit rambunctious.

The new piece where respected filmmakers ask Wong questions feels a little staged, including the answers, but Wong does get a chance to reveal some details about his inspirations and approach to filmmaking.

The documentary ‘Buenos Aires Zero Degree’ is an hour long and artfully produced. It’s a well-regarded film that’s played in festivals itself, in fact, so is one of the gems among the special features. As well as some interviews with the cast and crew it contains a lot of deleted material, including some sequences with a female character who was completely cut out of the film.

I enjoyed the press conference with Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung for In the Mood For Love. They discuss the challenges and benefits of Wong’s approach to filmmaking in fair detail and with some humour.

The near-1-hour making of is very good too and includes a lot of deleted scenes, many different from the others included on the disc. 2046 also has a fairly lengthy making of included on its disc. It feels a little like a promo at times but still includes some interesting glimpses of the production process.

Hua yang de nian hua is a short but sweet ode to classic Chinese cinema. It’s a beautiful little film that I enjoyed a great deal.

The biggest treat on the 2046 disc and, in fact, the whole set of bonus features within the set, is The Hand. Running at 56 minutes, this ‘short film’ could technically be called a feature, depending on how you categorise them. In a shorter form, it was originally part of the anthology film, Eros. I’ve not seen that, but brief accounts I’ve read generally class Wong’s film as the best of the three stories within it. I certainly liked The Hand a lot. Stripped back, in a narrative sense, it focuses intently on its central characters and offers an intensely sensual yet melancholic treat. It also features the most erotic scene I’ve witnessed between a man and a dress.

I didn’t receive a copy of the book to comment on that, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the set is easy to recommend. The films alone are excellent and the transfers sublime (though some may bemoan the fact they’ve been tampered with). Then you’ve got a decent amount of thoughtful extra features on top of this, including a bonus film that’s every bit as good as the others in the set. It’s a strong contender for box set of the year, that’s for sure.

World of Wong Kar Wai - Criterion
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