Wong Kar-wai BBS (Cantonese Yale: Wòhng Gà Waih; born July 17, 1958) is an award winning Hong Kong film director, internationally renowned as an auteur for his visually unique, highly stylized films.
Born in Shanghai
, he moved to Hong Kong
with his parents at the age of five. Coming from the Mainland
and speaking only Mandarin
, he had a difficult period of adjustment to Cantonese
speaking Hong Kong, spending hours in movie theatres with his mother. After graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic College
in graphic design
, he enrolled in the Production Training Course organized by Hong Kong Television Broadcasts Limited
(TVB) and became a full-time television scriptwriter
. In the mid-1980s, he became a scriptwriter/director at The Wing Scope Co. and In-gear Film Production Company, the production houses owned by renowned Hong Kong actor /movie producer Alan Tang
. Wong's current nostalgic artsy style took shape during his apprenticeship with Alan Tang Kwong-Wing, who invested in the first movie Wong directed, "As Tears Go By" (1988). Wong's career took off when he directed the film "Days of Being Wild" (1990), despite losing Alan Tang millions of invested dollars. Wong subsequently graduated to feature film work. He is credited with about ten scripts between 1982
, covering an array of genres from romantic comedy to action drama, but claims to have worked to some extent or another on about fifty more without official credit. He considers Final Victory
), a dark comedy/crime story for director Patrick Tam
, his best script.
Work as director
He made his directing debut in 1988 with As Tears Go By
, also produced by Alan Tang
. A crime melodrama
of the kind then hugely popular, it heavily borrowed from Martin Scorsese
's Mean Streets
(1974), but already displayed one of Wong's principal trademarks in its atmospheric and sometimes expressionistic
. It is his only box office
hit to date.
His next film, Days of Being Wild (1991), produced by Alan Tang, a drama about aimless youth set in the early 1960s, established his trademark form: elliptically plotted mood pieces, with lush visuals and music, about the burden of memory on melancholy, misfit characters. Days was a box office failure but now regularly tops Hong Kong critics' polls of the best local films ever made. It has been described as a sort of Cantonese Rebel Without a Cause.
He also established his own independent production company, called Jet Tone Films Ltd. in English. His partner in the company is Jeffrey Lau, a director and producer who tends to work closer to the populist vein of mainstream Hong Kong film.
Wong went on to direct several more feature films in the 1990s produced by Jet Tone, which allowed him to work at his own pace. Among these were Chungking Express (1994), which follows the lives of two love-struck cops in Hong Kong and the mysterious women they meet and fall in love with. Originally intended to be a distraction piece for him to get his mind off of the heavily delayed Ashes of Time, it ended up being one of his most popular films, if not the most popular. Fallen Angels (1995), was originally intended to be the third act of Chungking Express, but when the tone didn't fit with the other two parts, he cut it out and made it a standalone movie instead; it is seen as a semi-sequel to Chungking Express as is a neo-noir film about on a disillusioned killer trying to overcome the affections of his partner, a strange drifter looking for her ex-boyfriend, and a mute trying to get the world's attention in his own ways, all set against a sordid and surreal urban nightscape.
Wong's fourth movie, Ashes of Time (1994), released between Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, applied his approach to a star-studded wuxia (martial arts swordplay) story; the desert shoot in Mainland China dragged on for over a year and resulted in one of contemporary Hong Kong cinema's most notorious commercial disasters.
His first major international recognition was at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival where he won the Best Director prize for Happy Together (1997). A film that "uses gorgeous, saturated images set to an eclectic soundtrack of tango by Argentinian maestro Astor Piazolla, Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso and Frank Zappa instrumentals to chronicle the stormy affair of a gay couple living as expatriates in Buenos Aires.
Despite his background as a scriptwriter, one of Wong's trademarks as a director is that he works largely through improvisation and experimentation involving the actors and crew rather than adhering to a fixed screenplay. This has been a frequent source of trouble for his actors, his financial backers and many other people connected with his films, including sometimes himself.
The filming of In the Mood for Love (2000) had to be shifted from Beijing to Macau after the China Film Bureau demanded to see the completed script. This was all in all a minor setback in the "very complicated evolution" of the project which goes as far back as 1997. It was Wong's intention to make two films, one of which would be titled Beijing Summer, the plot unclear at the time, but eventually taking form in Macau. Here Wong planned to call it Three Stories About Food, but saw it better to settle for only one story, A Story About Food, that centers on a writer. Together with scenes shot in Bangkok and Angkor Wat, the filming took as long as 15 months. This was an especially arduous time for lead actress Maggie Cheung whose hair and makeup reportedly took a daily five hours, and who appeared in a different cheongsam in each scene. She famously compared the lengthy shoot to a cold she couldn't get rid of. Working without deadlines, the film's upcoming premier at Cannes nonetheless put some pressure on Wong to finish editing. Intending to name the film Secrets he was dissuaded by Cannes, and finally named it In the Mood for Love after Bryan Ferry's cover of the song "I'm in the Mood for Love" he was listening to.
Wong's 2046 (2004), a film about capturing lost memories, was the third chapter of a shared story that began with Days of Being Wild and continued with In the Mood for Love. Infamous for long drawn out shoots without any real regards to deadlines, a running joke amongst the crew was that he would finish in the year 2046.
In 2006, he became the first Chinese director to preside the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.
Wong Kar-wai's first full English-language film, My Blueberry Nights, opened the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as one of 22 films in competition. The lead, American singer-songwriter Norah Jones, made her acting debut in the film.
Wong Kar-wai was the jury president of the 2008 Shanghai International Film Festival which was held from June 14-22, 2008.
Wong Kar-wai has directed various short films, television commercials
, music videos
, or combinations thereof, all faithful to his style.
In 1996 he shot wkw/tk/1996@7′55″hk.net
for Japanese designer Takeo Kikuchi
, starring Tadanobu Asano
and Karen Mok
; in 1998 he did a commercial for Motorola
starring Tadanobu and Faye Wong
; in 2000 he produced a commercial for Suntime Wine with Tony Leung Chiu Wai
and Maggie Cheung
, and directed another one for JCDecaux
, Un matin partout dans le monde
, featuring different kinds of dawns
in cities around the world shot by famous movie directors; in 2001 he shot the TV spot Dans la ville
for the French mobile network company Orange France
and the short film The Hire: The Follow
as part of the BMW films
initiative; in 2002 he directed La Rencontre
, a commercial for Lacoste
starring Chang Chen
and Diane MacMahon; in 2005 he filmed an ad for Dior
's Capture Totale
perfume starring Sharon Stone
. Around September 21 2006
, in Prague
, he directed a commercial (released in early 2007
) for Lancôme Paris
's Hypnôse Homme
perfume starring Clive Owen
and Daria Werbowy
. Around June 25 2007
, again in Prague
, he directed a set of commercials for SoftBank
, starring Brad Pitt
. Also in 2007 he directed an ad for Dior
's Midnight Poison
perfume starring Eva Green
and featuring Muse
's song "Space Dementia
". On August 30
, "There's Only One Sun", a short film he scripted and directed for Philips
' Aurea HD Flat TV
, starring Amélie Daure, premiered at the IFA
In 2000 Wong directed a music video of Tony Leung's duet with Niki of a song from the In the Mood for Love
soundtrack to be included in Tony Leung's CD by the same name and on the French DVD release of In the Mood for Love
. In 2002 Wong made the music video Six Days
for DJ Shadow
featuring Chen Chang and Danielle Graham
His short film Hua Yang De Nian Hua
is a montage of scenes from vintage Chinese films, most of which were considered lost until some nitrate prints were discovered in a California
warehouse during the 1990s, set to a song from the soundtrack of In the Mood for Love
, it was shown at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival
Filmography as director
Scriptwriter and producer
As already mentioned, Wong is officially credited with about ten screenplays while having worked on another fifty in one way or another before his directorial debut. He has yet to direct a feature based on a script other than his own (though Ashes of Time
was adapted from a Louis Cha
novel), which would be highly unlikely considering his method of improvisation. Wong, through Jet Tone, is also the producer of all of his own films since 1993 with the exception of Ashes of Time
, a project that began much earlier. Through Jet Tone or otherwise, Wong has also produced various films, some directed by his partner in the company, Jeffrey Lau. Here are lists of films other than his own that Wong wrote screenplays for or produced:
Once Upon a Rainbow (1982), Just for Fun (1983), Silent Romance (1984), Chase a Fortune (1985), Intellectual Trio (1985), Unforgettable Fantasy (1985), Sweet Surrender (1986), Rosa (1986), Goodbye My Hero (1986), The Final Test (1987), Final Victory (1987), Flaming Brothers aka Dragon and Tiger Fight (1987), The Haunted Cop Shop of Horrors (1987), The Haunted Cop Shop of Horrors 2 (1988), Walk On Fire (1988), Return Engagement (1990), Saviour of the Soul (1992).
Flaming Brothers aka Dragon and Tiger Fight (1987), The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993), First Love: the Litter on the Breeze (1997), Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002), Sound of Colors (2003).
- Abbas, M. A. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8166-2925-0.
- Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00214-8.
- Dannen, Fredric, and Barry Long. Hong Kong Babylon: The Insider's Guide to the Hollywood of the East. New York: Miramax, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6267-X.
- Dissanayake, Wimal, and Dorothy Wong. Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003. ISBN 962-209-585-2.
- Lalanne, Jean-Marc, et al. Wong Kar Wai. Paris: Dis Voir, 1997. ISBN 2-906571-67-9.
- Tambling, Jeremy. Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003. ISBN 962-209-589-5.
- Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten. Films and Dreams: Tarkovsky, Bergman, Sokurov, Kubrick, and Wong Kar-Wai. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. ISBN 0739121871.
- Brown, Andrew M. J. Directing Hong Kong: The Political Cinema of John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai. Political Communications in Greater China: the Construction and Reflection of Identity. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2001. ISBN 070071734X.
- Brunette, Peter, and Kar-wai Wong. Wong Kar-Wai. Contemporary Film Directors. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2005. ISBN 0252029925, ISBN 0252072375.
- Redmond, Sean. Studying Chungking Express. Leighton Buzzard: Auteur, 2004. ISBN 190366330X.
- Teo, Stephen. Wong Kar-Wai: Auteur of Time. World Directors. London: BFI, 2004. ISBN 1844570282, ISBN 1844570290.
- Wong, Kar-wai, Yichang Liu, and Kar-wai Wong. Tête-bêche: A Wong Kar Wai Project. Hong Kong: Block 2 Pictures, 2000. ISBN 9628605119.
- Wong, Kar-wai, and Tony Rayns. Wong Kar-Wai on Wong Kar-Wai. London: Faber, 2002. ISBN 0571193978.
In other languages
- Aleksandrowicz, Joanna. Pomiędzy obrazem a wskazówkami zegarów: o estetyce nietrwałości w filmach Wong Kar-waia. Kraków: Rabid, 2008. ISBN 8360236305.
- Alovisio, Silvio, Vanessa Durando, and Micaela Veronesi. Le ceneri del tempo: il cinema di Wong Kar Wai. Piombino (LI): Traccedizioni, 1997. ISBN 8872050960.
- Gliatta, Leonardo. Wong Kar-Wai: [saggio critico, foto, filmografia, dichiarazioni del regista, antologia della critica]. Roma: D. Audino, 2004. ISBN 8886350775.
- Jousse, Thierry. Wong Kar-Wai. Les petits cahiers. Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 2006. ISBN 2866424573, ISBN 2240025190.
- Schnelle, Josef, and Rüdiger Suchsland. Zeichen und Wunder das Kino von Zhang Yimou und Wong Kar-Wai. Marburg: Schüren, 2008. ISBN 3894724382.