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Podcast Episode 136: A Valentine To The Rapturous Romanticism Of Wong Kar-Wai

Hong Kong filmmaker makes the perfect films about modern romance

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Miramax

Faye Wong as one of the lovers in Wong Kar-Wai's "Chungking Express."

Episode 136: A Valentine To Wong Kar-Wai

For Valentine's Day there is only one contemporary filmmaker to turn to for lush romanticism and that's Wong Kar-Wai. For this podcast I send a Valentine to the Hong Kong filmmaker and turn to archive interviews from 1995 to 2008 with Wong and his favorite stars Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. Swoon with me over films such as "Chungking Express" and "In the Mood for Love."

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Recommended viewing

“Days of Being Wild” (1990)

“Chungking Express” (1994)

“Ashes of Time” (1994)

“Fallen Angels” (1995)

“Happy Together” (1997)

“In the Mood for Love” (2000)

“2046” (2004)

“My Blueberry Nights” (2007)

My idea of a good date movie is "Shaun of the Dead." So maybe I'm not the best person to be making Valentine's Day recommendations.

But there's one contemporary filmmaker who consistently tackles love with such lush romanticism that even I swoon at his movies. That is Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai. So as much as I hate Cupid's silly holiday, here's a Valentine to Wong.

For this podcast, I dig back into the archives for interviews with Wong and his frequent acting collaborators Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. I draw on multiple interviews I did with Wong including ones for "In the Mood for Love" and "My Blueberry Nights," the film that was opening when I first sent Wong this Valentine.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: USA Films

Filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai on the set of "In the Mood for Love."

In person, Wong cuts a romantic figure with his spiky haircut, ever-present shades and a cherished cigarette smoldering between his fingers.

Leung has worked repeatedly with Wong over many years and noted, "He is very mysterious on the set. I don't know what happens behind those sunglasses. Maybe he's sleeping, I don't know. The most interesting thing is that even though you know your character very well after you finish all the shooting, you will never have an idea what the story is about because he will do that in the editing room."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Kino

Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung star as gay lovers in Wong Kar-Wai's 1997 film "Happy Together."

Whipping up heady romantic cocktails in the editing room is something Wong does exceptionally well. His films offer mood rather than story, and sweep you up with their intoxicating and expressionistic images. Although each of Wong's films has a distinctly different flavor, they all expand on a similar pool of ideas — love, loss, desire and a fascination with tangled romantic relationships. Wong said that in a sense he's just making a single epic work, with each film an added chapter.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

Norah Jones stars in Wong Kar-Wai's first English language film, "My Blueberry Nights" in 2008.

Wong tries to do something different with each film, yet his body of work reveals a fascination for similar themes.

His expressionistic visual style — whether it's the blurred slow motion of "Chungking Express," the slow, steady, voyeuristic shots of "In the Mood for Love," or the richly textured cinemascope of "2046" — conveys the emotions of his characters and dictates the atmosphere of his film. His films ask you to surrender to their breathtaking romantic spirit. Nobody is as rapturously romantic as Wong, and yet his films avoid the maudlin sentimentality of most Hollywood romantic fare. His films are beautiful yet tinged with sadness and an aching sense of desire.

And only the hardest of hearts will be able to resist them.

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