One-Tenth of a Millimeter Apart (2021, Wong Kar-wai)

Making a Wong film out of outtakes fom other Wong films. It’s a cute idea – pushes its egg-metaphor too much, but gives us some scenes that I honestly can’t recall if/how they existed in the source features since I don’t watch his movies often enough.

Wandering (2021, Tsai Ming-liang)

A woman walks through Tsai’s installation, watching a scene from each of the eight Walker films, alone except when the director appears at the end, transfixed by his own footage of Lee in a bath. A nice introduction and/or culmination to the slow monk project, with some new-to-me scenes, including a non-Lee monk in a white void.

Redemption (2013, Miguel Gomes)

Four sections of archive footage illustrating narrated letters from the past. The end credits is where things get exciting, revealing the narrators and the letter writers (Maren Ade reading Angela Merkel!) then immediately revealing that all the letters were made-up. Per Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker, the letters are by “some of contemporary Europe’s least-liked leaders,” and the end result “a sympathetic but also fundamentally facile experiment.”

Dead Flash (2021, Bertrand Mandico)

A scrapbook for Mandico completists – rushes and backgrounds with a mood-music mixtape. Extended shots of a multiple-stabbed dude, a double-dicked light-up crystal statue, the usual. Then the second half is ape-people as model and photographer (both played by Elina Löwensohn) in split screen with dialogue (“I want you to magnify this dirty memory”).

Fellow Mandico completist Gianni helps spot the source films on lboxd:

Outtakes from previous shorts (Extazus, Niemand, A Rebours and HuyswomansHuyswomans is reproposed integrally) plus a brand-new short film about two anthropomorphic monkeys … the outtakes of Extazus have been released separately in a dvd box-set – Ultra Pulpe et autre chairs – with the title of A Black Sunset Upon a Violet Desert.

bonus shorts from Criterion Channel:

Dream City (1983, Ulysses Jenkins)

Music and theater performances and other assorted stuff, mixed together with muddy sound recording and early video chroma effects.

Black Journal: Alice Coltrane (1970, Stan Lathan)

Short, effective doc portrait on Alice at home and playing music. Beyond a few photographs previously seen, this is now everything I know about Alice.

And we got access to that animation streaming site that I already forgot the name of, and watched two of this year’s oscar-nominated shorts that I already forgot the name of.

From Sammo Hung to Jeffrey Lau this week. After Eagle Shooting Heroes, Lau made a two-part Journey to the West with Stephen Chow called Chinese Odyssey, and a few years later, this movie has… no relation to that one – probably just a U.S. distrib capitalizing on name recognition. Heroes was produced by Wong Kar-wai, featured cast from Ashes of Time which was being shot at the same time, and jokey references to the Wong film, which ended up releasing later than the would-be parody because Wong spends years in the editing room. These two buddies have not learned their lesson, repeating the same trick here with 2046, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Besides the Wong refs (also a Days of Being Wild joke, and people being precise numbers of meters apart) it’s got really good music, overall a snappy action-comedy.

Princess Faye Wong escapes the palace, in part by smashing through the gate with her head, pursued by Emperor Chang Chen. Meanwhile, Tony Leung is the most hated man in his small town, obstructing business to his beloved sister’s restaurant (she is Zhao Wei of Three and Red Cliff) while trying to find her a man. Each sibling couple falls for their counterpart, and it looks like things will work out until the Dowager Empress Rebecca Pan (Maggie’s landlady in ITMFL) denies the marriage to Tony, and Princess Faye goes mad. As usual in Chinese movies, everyone mistakes the two lovely women for men, but this goes even further, becomes a genuinely transsexual movie when Tony and the Princess swap roles at the end.

Chang and Zhao being weird:

Tony and Faye in trouble:

I half-remembered this from watching Eros at the Landmark way back then, and the new remaster gives us a good excuse to revisit. Gong Li is a high-class call girl, whose life/career hits a rocky patch, then she has to move into a dank moldy place and gets the croup. Chen Chang is her devoted tailor in good times and bad. Besides all the perfect costuming and sumptuous dim-light photography, highlight is a scene of erotic dumpling stuffing.

There’s Only One Sun (2007)

Found this short, nonsensical spy drama on vimeo, with horrid video compression compared to The Hand blu-ray. It’s a commissioned television ad that culminates in Amélie Daure of Frontier(s) making out with her flatscreen. Before that, there’s some talk off finding an untraceable person(?) named The Light, a flashback structure, a couple murders – that’s a lot for Wong, who likes to let his camera linger, to pull off in eight minutes. Mostly it seems designed to show the brightest colors possible, bleeding into each other, to impress the rubes when the brightness is cranked up at the Best Buy video wall. No need for too many new ideas – songs are reused from the 2046 soundtrack.

Rewatched with Katy on Criterion Channel. I guess we’d last seen it before I started the blog, and there’s a particular reason we had to rewatch it now, but since I’m not going to elucidate, and since I didn’t get any screenshots from streaming, I’ll just link to Eric Hynes’s great writeup.

Functional doc following pre-planning through opening night of a Spring 2015 China-inspired fashion show at the Met in NYC. 95% of the interest comes from the fantastic costumes on display and in archive footage and clothing worn by celebrities to the opening ball. 4% comes from watching Wong Kar-Wai as the only Chinese participant on the board (and realizing he does other things with his time besides making movies), and the rest is from anything that anyone has to say.

Responsible Lai Yiu-Fai (Wong fave Tony Leung) and impulsive, promiscuous Ho Po-Wing (Ashes of Time star Leslie Cheung) took a trip to Argentina, ran out of money and got stuck there. Now they’re trying to make money to get home, while the pressure of being together so long has destroyed their relationship. Ho disappears for long periods, returning dramatically without warning, while Lai persistently works menial jobs at a nightclub, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. Lai meets Chang (young Chen Chang, lately The Razor in The Grandmaster) in the kitchen, but Chang isn’t sticking around Buenos Aires long, is on his way around the world (with ITMFL-like mention of a remote place people go to leave their troubles behind). Lai finally gets the money to leave, can’t find Ho so he returns to Hong Kong, where he can’t find Chang either (only finds his family’s restaurant).

Mostly great, eclectic music choices, including my favorite Caetano Veloso song from Talk To Her. But, well, my love for Frank Zappa is eternal, and I complain that his music isn’t played enough, and I appreciate the connection between him and the Turtles song of the film’s ironic title, but “I Have Been In You” did not fit the wistful mood of the city montage after Chang left.

Lai at the waterfall:

Chang at the end of the world:

A sustained mood piece, where nothing really happens and Christopher Doyle’s brilliant cinematography heighten the emotions of everyday life – just like In The Mood For Love. But ITMFL was about the possibility of an ultimately doomed romance, and this one’s about the lingering feelings after romance has ended. It’s a much more bitter movie, and though I enjoyed seeing it in HD for the first time, it doesn’t seem like one to revisit regularly.

M. D’Angelo:

Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that’s missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels … and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling.

On one hand, I don’t think this is a perfect movie. Many of the scenes are beautiful by themselves, but I’m not sure that it comes together into a structure that makes sense. On the other hand, I’m fascinated with this movie, having watched the U.S. version twice in theaters then the original on blu-ray. The U.S. makes some major blunders, changes the order of events to the detriment of all emotional build-up and overuses title cards. But those title cards came in handy for me, and the original version made more sense for my having seen the other one first. Also, even though the U.S. is a half hour shorter, it somehow contains entire scenes that weren’t in the original.

My favorite edit:

Tony Leung has been in Red Cliff and Lust, Caution but I haven’t seen him since 2046. He plays Ip Man, a renowned martial artist and teacher, introduced fighting a hundred dudes including a final boss played by Cung Le (Bronze Lion) under the slow-motion rain. Action isn’t abstracted like in Ashes of Time – it’s actually more commercial-looking than usual for Wong, shot by new guy Philippe Le Sourd but edited by William Chang who worked on Ashes of Time and the others.

Ip moves away from his wife to Hong Kong then isn’t allowed to return. He and Zhang Ziyi have a mutual fascination, and the best part of the movie follows her story as she reclaims her father’s title from his traitorous former disciple Ma San. This sidetrack from the “Grandmaster” story plus the movie’s splintering into different versions make it seem more open-ended, like every character could unexpectedly lead his own movie. For instance, Chen Chang (male star of Three Times) has a minor scene in the U.S. cut, and two completely different scenes (including a major anti-government battle) in the original. Usually we hear rumors of trouble in the editing room then Wong delivers a final, completed film – this time he seems to have given in to artistic indecision. Or maybe it’s simply the Weinsteins’ fault – either way, I’ve enjoyed assembling the pieces in my mind, dreaming my own Grandmaster.

Jiang, for instance, deserves his own entire movie:

Maggie Cheung has health problems, comes to stay with her older cousin Andy Lau, a loanshark enforcer who acts completely recklessly along with his fuckup buddy Jacky Cheung. This movie and Days of Being Wild could definitely have swapped titles.

Ronald Wong (sort of an HK Bud Cort) manages to get out of the gangster life, marries, is given a bunch of money. Jacky fails hard in every direction though, tries to quit and run a food stand but ends up where he came from: getting the shit beaten out of him until he’s rescued by Andy. These two have their moments of brilliance, but by refusing to play the gangster game by the rules, soon everyone is tired of their shit. Crazy Tony (Alex Man) is set up as the “bad guy” who wants our heroes dead, but that’s all our heroes deserve, and soon what they get. Meanwhile, a bit of a love story has developed between Maggie and Andy, set to a Chinese version of “Take My Breath Away” and a 1980’s synth score. But just when Andy thought he was out, the bastards pulled him back in, then shot him in the head.

Jackie on right:

Ang Wong only has two scenes, but makes an impression:

Movie seems to do everything you’re not supposed to do (shoot objects instead of the people who are talking, cast a superstar actress and never show her eyes, use tons of slow-mo without speeding up the camera, drop the entire plot and start a whole new movie halfway in) but does it with such romantic style that instead of being considered a wrongheaded failure, it influenced moviemaking for the next decade. Watched in gorgeous high-def (not represented by screenshots below).

Brigitte Lin had very different roles in this (in which she barely talks and never removes her wig and shades) and Ashes of Time in her final year as a film star before retiring. She’s a secret criminal here, helping foreigners pack their bags full of hidden drugs and get fake passports out of the country, getting threatened and chased, shooting a fella… it’s hard out here for Brigitte Lin.

Takeshi Kaneshiro (of House of Flying Daggers) plays sad Cop 223 (he’s the same sad cop in Fallen Angels), who got dumped by his girlfriend a month before his birthday, and plays a game involving nearly-expired canned pineapple imagining she’ll come back. He hangs around a fast food place chatting with the owner and hoping to catch a glimpse of Brigitte Lin, with whom he becomes obsessed without ever finding out about the criminal angle. Eventually Faye Wong starts working at the food joint and the movie shifts focus.

Tony “Tony 1” Leung (currently appearing in John Woo’s Red Cliff) is Cop 663 who also frequents the food stand, though we never see him and Cop 223 in the same scene, so they may as well have been the same character. He still has a girlfriend (a flight attendant, she gets some scenes) though he soon loses her. He certainly notices Faye Wong, talks with her, but only becomes interested in her towards the end when it’s too late.

Faye Wong was only in three films in the decade between this and 2046. She keeps herself busy being a billion-selling superstar musician. Here she bounces around filling orders to “California Dreaming” until she gets unhealthily obsessed with Tony 1, intercepts the keys his ex tried to return, and starts entering his apartment every day, cleaning, playing, accidentally flooding, dancing, hiding and substituting his stuff until he finally breaks out of his brooding fog and starts to notice. Soon as he does, she disappears to California for a year, returning for a sweet final scene at the food joint.

“Where do you want to go?”
“Wherever you want to take me.”

JULY 2019: Watched again, with Katy this time, on Criterion Channel, after I had “Dreams” stuck in my head for our whole HK trip.