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Peter Rainer on Wong Kar-Wai

Peter Rainer on Wong Kar-Wai

Indiewire: “The Grandmaster — already Wong Kar-wai’s highest grossing film at the Chinese box office — hit U.S. theaters this weekend care of Mr. Harvey Weinstein (in a version 22 minutes shorter than what China got), and got off to a very respectable start. In 7 theaters, the film grossed $132,259 for a $18,894 average — the highest average of any film in release, wide or limited.” 

I was among the first responders and when we went to the Arclight Friday night, it was nearly empty.  It was a beautiful film; we knew it was epic and yet it is told in the fractured style that made Days of Being Young in 1990 and later Chungking Express (1994) not my favorite films.  When the Ashes of Time came to Toronto in 1994 or 95, it destroyed my faith in Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to tell a story western-style.  I certainly did not have the patience to try to see it again in its Redux version 14 years later.  Roger Ebert’s review of it confirmed this.  And so I missed Happy Together (1997) and  In the Mood for Love (2000) which my friend assured me was his best. Roger Ebert’s review backed up that opinion.

BTW, 2001’s In The Mood For Love ($2,738,980) and 2004’s 2046 ($1,444,588).  According to Peter Knegt of Indiewire, the opening of The Grandmaster is promising enough to suggest it could end up with a gross at least in between those two films.  We’ll keep an eye on it.

To return to the subject of this blog, Peter Rainer, whose book of critical writings which was published this year, Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era is keeping me busy at 574 pages, wrote 2 1/2 pages on In the Mood for Love and so I turned to it for his opinion. 

Peter is one of our favorite critics (now writing for Christian Science Monitor and a columnist for Bloomberg News), and even David Denby, the New Yorker’s film critic says that “no one is better than Peter Rainer at establishing the intersection of politics and popular culture”.  In the section “Overrated” he calls In the Mood ” a fashion show of images; the camera placements and color coordinations comes to us right off the runway…Chungking Express...turned contemporary Hong Kong into an oscillation of glittery shards, and his new film is stylistically as just about the opposite extreme…it’s as languorous as the earlier film was frenetic.  But beneath it all, Wong is still essentially the same artist who places a higher premium on show-offy technique than on content.  His movies have a high decadence quotient; we always feel as if we’re marinating in a gorgeous insubstantiality.”

Bravo Peter.  That says it all.  

With The Grandmaster, I know I’m watching a very important political story which is not political in and of itself, because it is about the rivalry and ultimate union of martial artists of the many schools of Kung Fu which existed in China and which joined together to fight the Japanese and then went into a sort of exile in Hong Kong which culminated in the training to Bruce Lee himself and in the democratization of the martial art.  

The content is hard to grasp; one could say it is insubstantial and the style is totally show-offy with its “oscillation of glittery shards”; and it does have, in Peter’s words, “a high decadence quotient”.   However, I must say, I loved it.  

It was watching a work of art oscililate from the abstract to the figurative, runway fashions, glittery shards and all.  I felt I had witnessed the greatest Wong Kar-wai film to date and was glad to be among the great admirers of him and the beautiful, sexy and restrained Tony Leung.

It is worth also reading David Chute, the “Asia Film wonk” on the subject of Wong Kar-Wai in TOH, as he was the second person I knew who saw all the Asian films, certainly he was the first in the U.S., as Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo was the first to bring them out of China and to the attention of the West.

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