Wong Kar Wai's 5 Most Essential Films

4:00 PM 3/13/2016

by Boyd van Hoeij

THR breaks down the best from the Hong Kong's cinema "grandmaster."

Wong Kar Wai
Getty Images

  • 'Chungking Express'

    (1994)

    Photofest

    Made as a contemporary quickie while taking a break from editing Ashes of Time, this bipartite drama about lovesick cops started to draw the contours of both a recurring Wong theme — rudderless love in the big city — and the director’s teeming-yet-desolate urban aesthetic, also courtesy of Christopher Doyle’s stylishly kinetic camerawork.

  • 'Ashes of Time'

    (1994)

    Photofest

    Though the story keeps getting lost in gold-colored dust-ups, this is enthralling visual filmmaking, with Wong more often resembling a live-action painter. This is also the wuxia epic that most clearly anticipated Hou Hsiou-hsien’s equally slow-moving, landscape-obsessed and unnervingly gorgeous The Assassin.

  • 'Happy Together'

    (1997)

    Photofest

    Two male lovers can’t live with or without each other in Wong’s most intensely focused and heartrending film, which explored the agonizing pangs of love for gay characters almost a decade before Brokeback Mountain. Though shot in Argentina, Happy also functions as a sly comment on Hong Kong’s love/hate relationship with China right when it took over the reins of Hong Kong from the British.

  • 'In the Mood for Love'

    (2000)

    Block 2 Pictures/Photofest

    Two cheated-on neighbors fall in love but don’t want to commit their spouses’ foul acts, which creates a simultaneously glowing and glowering sense of romantic tension in Wong’s undisputed masterpiece. This is, quite simply, the most gorgeously aching neon fever dream in cinema history.

  • 'The Grandmaster'

    (2013)

    Wong’s second wuxia epic — the dark and rain-soaked yin to Ashes of Time’s dry and sunburnt yang — again showcases the director’s visual and technical skills while relying on the mesmerizing features of Tony Leung to infuse his version of the story of Ip Man with a sense of gravitas and spirit.

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