The Mystery of Love in the Films of Kar-Wai Wong
Love occupies one of the dominant roles in the human life. Since God created a man and a woman and encouraged them to support each other during their whole life, seeking the beloved spouse has been the primary purpose of human life. Even today, through the centuries from this symbolical point, people dream about true love and often feel disadvantaged if they have failed in experiencing it. Indeed, the essence of this desired feeling remains the biggest mystery of human relations, however, nobody can tell precisely what the true love means. An eternal topicality of the issue alongside with the wide emotional spectrum related to it makes love one of the most popular foci in filmmaking. The love story is an integral part of almost each movie regardless of its genre. The directors propose numerous original and fascinating perspectives of romantic relations, which are perceived differently by the critiques and viewers who are guided by their own points of view and emotional experiences. Thus, the paper seeks to demonstrate the variety of scholarly approaches to love depicted in the films of the director Kar-Wai Wong In the Mood for Love and Ashes of Times and propose personal vision grounded in the analysis of art tools he used to express the topic.
Kar-Wai Wong stands out from the cinema directors with his subtle and virtuous presentation of human relations. Therefore, there is no surprise that his films are in the spotlight of numerous critiques who are arguing about the true meaning of Wongs higher concept, which is often far beyond the audio-visual perception (Kickasola 54). It creates the space for interpretations. Thus, speaking about a single Wongs movie different scholars can make various conclusions. The articles of Ya-Chen Chen As simple as an Egg: Lessons about Love in the Ashes of Time and Sinkwan Cheng Chinese Cinema in the Global Age: Ashes of Time and the Human Condition are bright proofs of this. They both explore the Wongs movie Ashes of Times, but Chen treats love presented in it as a simple matter, while Cheng emphasizes love as loneliness and suffering implying its complicatedness (Chen 95; Cheng 94). Investigating the arguments of both authors, comparing and contrasting them, verifying the evidence from the chosen movies, the sense of Wongs concept of love will be analyzed.
Despite the fact that both articles review only one of the films observed in the paper, the majority of the authors comments could be applied to the movie In the Mood for Love as well, as they both depict love stories that are consonant with each other. Both pictures depict the topics of a love triangle and lost opportunities on the way to happiness. Indeed, in In the Mood for Love, the viewer evidences the development of romantic relations between two married people who are betrayed by their spouses and try to understand why it happens. The feelings of the protagonist from Ashes of Times are presented as nostalgic memories about the beloved woman who is also married and, moreover, his sister-in-law.
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It seems to be rather strange to speak about married people who have also beloved persons from the perspective of loneliness as Sinkwan Cheng does. He suggests that love is an individual emotion that cannot be shared or understood by anybody else besides the person who feels it (Cheng 94). Cheng emphasizes that loneliness is equally inherent in both relational systems, in either mutual or unrequited love. Indeed, one can notice that the feelings of emptiness and emotional isolation prevail in In the Mood for Love. The characters are married, but during the whole film, the faces of their spouses are not shown even a single time. In the scenes where they are involved the viewer can hear only their voices or see them from behind. There is no emotional interaction within family relations. The characters spouses appear to exist, but at the same time, they are absent in the life of Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen. Both are married but feel lonely in their family life. Such an effect is created through Kar-Wai Wongs virtuous use of tour de force technique, which allows him to reduce the information overload of the movies plot while emphasizing the characters emotions through creating a needed aura (Brunette 88).
This effect Kar-Wai Wong develops through using other subtle narrative elements, which enhance the impression of characters loneliness with each next scene. Thus, there is no shot with the common eating of both spouses. Instead, almost every evening Su Li-Zhen goes to buy the noodles to the nearest cook shop. She goes here alone and returns to the empty room to eat it in solitude when her neighbors often have a common supper accompanied with the languid leisure. Taking into account that common eating routine is traditionally strongly associated with human warmth, this aura and visual contrast underline the existence of the emotional gap in Su Li-Zhen’s family and her being lonely in the daily life. When at the begging of the film the impression of the characters loneliness is only the viewers suggestion, further one can find the confirmation of it in Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhens dialogues that Kar-Wai Wong uses to support his stylistic accents. Thus, true love implies the sincere interest in the beloved persons desires and aspirations, but both characters are lonely in their area of personal interests. Before marriage, Chow Mo-wan dreamed of writing the novel about t martial arts, but as he got married, he had no opportunity to realize this dream because, according to his words, personal interests should not overcome the familys ones. However, Kar-Wai Wong does not present this fact to make Chow Mo-wan the victim of the situation, but rather to show the level of spouses alienation. It becomes clear when Su Li-Zhen asks him whether he knows his wife. In the context of the situation this question is rhetorical implying the negative answer although it is not explicitly stated.
One can argue whether the story of the spouses in the movie In the Mood for Love is about love, however, the relations between Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen seem to be the central focus of the movie. Indeed, the couples alienated relations and further betrayal seem to shape the background for deep psychological investigation. Betrayed spouses during the film tried to find the reasons for their situation and understand how the romantic relations linked with their beloved. Their own story is juxtaposition of their family relations, which is aimed at revealing the causes they are seeking and demonstrates the other part of Chengs suggestion about love as suffering.
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Kar-Wai Wong exploits the juxtaposing technique in Ashes of Times where he also presents love stories contrasting them to each other. One story is as simple as an egg, whereas the other resembles the complicated love triangle between Chow Mo-wan, Su Li-Zhen and their spouses (Chen 84). Chen called this complicatedness as the principle of the two mountains meaning peoples subjective judgments about life and love, the contrast between desirable rewards and an endless race for something better or inaccessible (85). Kar-Wai Wongs demonstrates that people can live in another way through the character of the poor girl Hong Qi, whose simplicity brightly contrasts with Quyang Feng complication. Her straightforwardness allows the girl to be happy and enjoy her marital love without any doubts and long reflections on two mountains, while Quang Feng and his beloved can just regret about the missed opportunities to gain happy romantic love.
Although Ashes of Time was created earlier than the picture previously observed, it seems to present a lot of answers for art questions Kar-Wai Wong raised in In the Mood for Love and seems to be the prediction of its final or warning for the protagonists who have the chance to change the situation. Indeed, both films imply the nostalgia as a meaningful dimension of life and love. Quang Feng saves the memories about his beloved who is married to his brother and suffers from it. At the very beginning, he admits that the memory is the reason for all troubles in the worlds (Wong, Ashes of Times). This phrase has a particular sense also concerning the story of the characters from In the Mood for Love, who cannot forget the betrayal of their spouses and do not want to follow their behavior. Su Li-Zhen’s phrase We would not be like them is the loud echo of nostalgia (Wong, In the Mood for Love). Moreover, in both films, nostalgia has somewhat another dimension in terms of the assumption of the critic Rey Chow that nostalgia may not be so much as feeling for something that is lost as much as a feeling of looking for something (qtd. in Dumas 135). Actually, all the characters in both films are looking for true love and happiness.
It seems that nostalgia is the primary reason for the complexity of love according to Ya-Chen Chens interpretation of love in Ashes of Times. Everything, starting from the films title and ending with symbolism, supports this suggestion. Thus, just after complaints about memory as the source of troubles, the bird cage appears as if fugitive and insignificant element. Indeed, the fact that the character identified it as something familiar even after drinking wine to erase memories makes viewers focus their attention on this thing and associate it with the captivity. In the context of movie plot, the cage is likely to mean the numerous human restrictions caused by previous experience and future expectations. This metaphor can also be compared to Chengs suggestion about love as loneliness where individual romantic emotions play the role of the cage making the person less understandable for the others and condemned to suffering.
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Speaking about romantic emotions with all their hues, it is impossible not to highlight the virtuosity of Wongs art style allowing the viewer plunge into the emotional aura of his films. The majority of his works have minimal narrative elements, short dialogues, but an ample of art tools the director uses to demonstrate the characters feelings. The films dynamics is one of the most prominent distinctive features of Wongs movies. Operating with the steam of temporal, psychological, perceptual and other multiple energies, he managed to create the special flow that is like the bridge between the film and the perceiver. According to Joseph Kickasola, the Wongs flow is a dynamic between self and world that gives space for thinking and feeling rather than just observing the actors (48). Thus, pauses are the significant part of the technique stressing the characters emotional interaction. During the ordinary scenes where Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen are passing side by side at the door or on the cook shops stairs, the viewer can catch their emotions because of meaningful pauses.
The flow that creates the visual track reinforced by music brings the greatest expressive intensity of the moment. Thus, Kar-Wai Wong uses a lot of refined music compositions, including authentic and world-known tracks in each of his films. The film critic Noel Carroll admits that Wongs modified music gives the film a deeper personality and polish (Fang et al. 5). Thus, a few Latin-themed romantic songs sound at the moments of the emotional peak when Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen suffer from their loneliness, inability to be free and open their feelings. Besides the music, Wong broadly exploits the sounds of nature or just silence to demonstrate strong emotions. Thus, watching In the Mood for Love, a viewer can enjoy the sounds of rain, which implies the characters love suffering, while in Ashes of Times the force of Murong Yins disappointment and irritation is expressed with the powerful winds flow.
Repetition belongs to the most prominent distinctive features of Kar-Wai Wongs filmmaking art. The director operates with the multiple repetitions of the same architectural elements, music tracks or other sounds, characters actions and even dialogues. This technique seems to entangle the viewer, but it has the meaningful purpose: only on the static background, one can notice the changes. It is surprising but in In the Mood for Love the clothes help to distinguish one moment from another. The phrase that the things matter if pay attention to them serves as an explanation of the films perception (Wong, In the Mood for Love). It was said by Su Li-Zhen not accidently, as well as it was her clothes in the focus of the majority of the shots. The female protagonist changed more than twenty dresses during the film. Besides the function of identification of the progress of time, the clothes underlined the contrast between the Su Li-Zhens appearance and her emotional state: the vivid dress identified her deeper emotions.
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Thus, Kar Wai Wongs films are saturated with emotions, and it is hard to characterize his work as simple as an egg. Chens position seems to be a rather idealistic one, as well as human emotions of his characters cannot be so simple, especially when the persons soul suffers from the struggle between love and obligation. Chen claims that love requires the spontaneous overflow of emotions and freedom from any judgments, but in reality, it is impossible because it means irresponsibility, offense, and ignorance, as love has various forms (Chen 95). There are a lot of external factors, including the social environment, which do not allow insisting on the love’s simplicity. The story of Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen brightly demonstrate how environment rules the characters lives and influence the development of their relations. In some scenes Kar-Wai Wong makes an accent on the neighborhoods gossips about Su Li-Zhen. Firstly, it is a seemingly innocent remark about the womans dress she wears to go for the noodles, which was made behind her back. The next episode was a shameful remark concerning Su Li-Zhen’s late arrival at home when her husband is on the business trip the housekeeper told the lady to face. These two episodes alongside with numerous scenes with the characters attempts to avoid social attention and hide their secrets from each other are bright evidence of the social influence on people and their feelings.
Obviously, blindly following social standards has no sense and is even dangerous. Wong emphasized this moment when depicting the times five years later when the Su Li-Zhens environment had changed, and nobody was concerned about her behavior. Even the housekeeper, who blamed her in the past, did not mention the nuances. However, the decision Su Li-Zhen made being guided by social values influenced only her life. This moment encourages evaluating the situation from the point of the individual priorities and time perspectives. Love is firstly the personal choice, which requires emotional courage to build the relations and tell everyone about this decision. If considering Chow Mo-wans confession that love comes suddenly and is beyond the human control, then the decision would be really simple because no other thing will matter besides love. Maybe Chen implies such situations speaking about simplicity.
To conclude, Kar-Wai Wong expressively depicted human emotions in both his films In the Mood for Love and Ashes of Times emphasizing equally the characters suffering, their loneliness and juxtaposing them to the simplicity of romantic relations. This emotional spectrum seems to have the multiple dimensions of the human nature. It is quite complicated to identify which of the perspectives proposed by Chen and Cheng is more relevant, even after analyzing the directors secret techniques, which could help to understand the concept of love. The true essence of love remains the controversial issue, but far from simplicity. It is strongly related to the personal choice and emotional courage and considering observed perspectives, one can suggest that love is the ability to transform the complicated things into simple ones.