Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai has been making some of the most unique, gorgeous films in the world since the 1990s. His movies are romantic, dreamy, and evocative, often stitching together multiple genres to create films unlike anything else. If you’re a fan of directors with a very distinct aesthetic, like Wes Anderson or Edgar Wright, I have a feeling you’re going to love Wong’s work. It can be a bit intimidating to try and catch up on the work of a filmmaker who’s been making movies for years, so I am here to recommend you three movies from Wong Kar-wai to get you started, and to help you celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And you can watch them all for free with your library card!
In the Mood for Love
There is no better place to see why so many film nerds are obsessed with Wong Kar-wai than 2000’s In the Mood for Love. The story is simple: two married couples move into adjacent apartment units in 1960s Hong Kong. The husband of one couple and the wife of the other begin an affair, leaving their spouses—played by Wong’s muses Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung—to speculate on what would lead them to infidelity. This speculation eventually blooms into romance, but the social pressures around them and the logistical constraints of everyday life force them to decide if embarking on an affair of their own would be worth it. This film is gorgeous, bittersweet, and a perfect showcase for the deeply emotional storytelling that has made Wong a perennial favorite.
In the Mood for Love is probably the most straightforward film Wong has ever made, but if you would like to ratchet the narrative complexity up a notch while still indulging in the romance that only Wong can do, check out Chungking Express. Chungking Express tells the stories of two Hong Kong police officers in the present day who try to navigate their assorted romantic travails while also navigating the confusing mega metropolis that is Hong Kong. While In the Mood for Love is languorous and indulgent, Chungking Express is a bit more all over the place, but this just means that when Wong’s trademark love stories get the time they deserve, they hit extra hard. If In the Mood for Love broke your heart, Chungking Express will be there to put it back together again.
Although predating both In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express, Fallen Angels is the perfect intersection of most of the things that make Wong’s movies great, as well as a whole lot more. This loosely interwoven film follows a hitman, a cleaner, a mute troublemaker, and several other eccentric characters as they manage to find and lose love in the gritty criminal underbelly of Hong Kong. This film has moments of aching tenderness, as well as some surprising action sequences and even some slapstick comedy. For English-speaking audiences, Wong has gotten a reputation for being the king of romance. While I won’t argue with that, he’s also got surprising range, and Fallen Angels is the perfect way to peek into the other things on his mind when he isn’t in the mood for love.
Asia is a big, diverse continent and Wong Kar-wai is just one exemplary filmmaker. There are many, many more, so if you are interested in more films by Asian and Asian-American filmmakers that we have in our collection, be sure to check out my video on the subject below.