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The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai

The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai: Film Poetics and the Aesthetic of Disturbance

Gary Bettinson
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai
    Book Description:

    The widely acclaimed films of Wong Kar-wai are characterized by their sumptuous yet complex visual and sonic style. This study of Wong’s filmmaking techniques uses a poetics approach to examine how form, music, narration, characterization, genre, and other artistic elements work together to produce certain effects on audiences. Bettinson argues that Wong’s films are permeated by an aesthetic of sensuousness and “disturbance” achieved through techniques such as narrative interruptions, facial masking, opaque cuts, and other complex strategies. The effect is to jolt the viewer out of complete aesthetic absorption. Each of the chapters focuses on a single aspect of Wong’s filmmaking. The book also discusses Wong’s influence on other filmmakers in Hong Kong and around the world. The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai will appeal to all who are interested in authorship and aesthetics in film studies, to scholars in Asian studies, media and cultural studies, and to anyone with an interest in Hong Kong cinema in general, and Wong’s films in particular.

    eISBN: 978-988-8313-08-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Wong Kar-wai and the Poetics of Hong Kong Cinema
    (pp. 1-26)

    In May 2004 Wong Kar-wai arrived at the Cannes Film Festival, exhausted. His new film2046was a competing entry, but Wong delivered the print twelve hours late. Festival organizers hurriedly arranged a last-minute screening. Official selections had to be rescheduled. Disgruntled delegates carped about Wong’s tardiness. Worse, the film was not finished. Crucial computer-generated (CGI) sequences had yet to be added; the sound track was defective; whole scenes remained to be shot. Wong had started production in December 1999, but2046had become a behemoth, impossible to finish. His crew had been working twenty-four-hour shifts. Now Wong was fatigued...

  5. 2 Romantic Overtures: Music in Chungking Express
    (pp. 27-48)

    Wong Kar-wai must be considered one of cinema’s trulycinematicauteurs. A filmmaker immersed in sound and image, he taps the spectator’s bimodal propensities for dramatic and expressive effect. He ascribes music special importance and no consideration of Wong as a cinematic stylist should neglect this aspect of his films. As an effort to elucidate Wong’s musical engagement, this chapter examines the functions and effects of music inChungking Express(1994). It aims to disclose how Wong marshals highly eclectic musical cues into a narratively coherent unity. Other, more general questions inform this chapter as well. What principles of musical...

  6. 3 Partial Views: Visual Style and the Aesthetic of Disturbance
    (pp. 49-72)

    Many of Asian cinema’s most renowned auteurs have mounted stylistic programs optimizing a narrow range of techniques. Ozu Yasujiro mines the expressive possibilities of frontal staging, fixed shot perspective, and low camera height. Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, and Jia Zhangke test the inexhaustibility of extended takes and distanced framings. Zhang Che and John Woo explore the kinesthetic effects of camera-speed juxtapositions and rapid zoom shots. In Bordwell’s terms, these filmmakers are “stubborn stylists,” faithful to their stylistic signatures (2007). Unlike these counterparts, Wong Kar-wai holds fast to no stable stylistic repertoire. And yet Wong’s films—even those as stylistically dissimilar...

  7. 4 Parallel Lives: Poetics of the Postproduction Plot
    (pp. 73-98)

    I have examined the significance of style in Wong’s cinema, but what of story? What convinces critics of the negligibility, even the absence, of plot in Wong’s films? Consider this representative but hardly exhaustive sample:Chungking Expressis “minimally plotted” (Taubin 2008), displaying a “breezy disregard for plot structure” (Cameron 2007);My Blueberry Nightsconstructs a narrative “so vaporous it barely exists” (Brooke 2008: 74);Happy Togetheris “almost plotless” (Elley 1997: 50);Days of Being Wild“uneventful” (Brunette 2005: 21); andAs Tears Go Bynarratively “sparse” (2). In this context, identifyingstorytellingas a central enterprise in Wong’s...

  8. 5 Frustrating Formulas: Popular Genre and In the Mood for Love
    (pp. 99-124)

    In his study of Wong Kar-wai, Brunette posits two polarized perspectives on Wong’s relationship to popular genre. In the “genre camp,” he notes, are critics asserting the centrality of genre to Wong’s commercial and storytelling strategies. Brunette cites Bordwell as an exponent of this perspective, adducing Bordwell’s claim that “Wong’s films . . . take popular norms as a point of departure” (2005: 3). A comparable view is held by cultural theorist Abbas, who argues that each of Wong’s films “starts with the conventions of a popular genre—and deliberately loses its way in the genre” (1997b: 50). Against this...

  9. 6 Appropriations, Reflections, and Future Directions
    (pp. 125-140)

    The foregoing analysis of Wong’s work has demonstrated his artistic ingenuity and accomplishment. In the following section, I examine Wong’s most recent feature-length film,The Grandmaster(2013), from the perspective of the parameters and contexts that have structured this book so far: musical and visual style, story and narration, and popular genre.The Grandmasterhas become Wong’s biggest commercial success to date, igniting claims that Wong has entirely abandoned his “local” sensibility and the complex storytelling style for which he is renowned. Detractors argue thatThe Grandmastertestifies to Wong’s turn (or regression) to popular genre and an international mode...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 141-150)
  11. Index
    (pp. 151-156)
  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)