copyright 2007, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 49, spring 2007

Trajectories of identification:
travel and global culture in the
films of Wong Kar-wai

by Allan Cameron

Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-wai has been embraced by the “West” in recent years, from his Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, to the European co-financing of his films In the Mood for Love and 2046, to his commercials for Western corporations BMW and Lacoste and the music video he has directed for recording artist DJ Shadow. Wong also enjoys an enthusiastic reception in many Asian countries, with the conspicuous exception of Hong Kong itself. The popularity of his films abroad is parallelled in the films themselves by a tendency to draw upon “foreign” cultural referents: from film noir to Japanese fiction to Argentinian novels. In this environment, questions of cultural translation leap to the fore. What happens to the articulation of Hong Kong “identity” in these processes of intertextual appropriation and international reception?

In order to answer these questions, I have selected those Wong Kar-wai films which deal most specifically with cultural translation and travel: Chungking Express (1994), Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004). Arguably, Wong’s earlier film Days of Being Wild (1990) treads similar territory, as it incorporates transcultural references along with one character’s journey from Hong Kong to the Philippines to search for his mother. I am focussing on Wong’s more recent films, however, because they tackle the relationship between culture and travel in a more sustained and complex fashion. Each of the films discussed here charts different trajectories of identification, plotted along divergent axes defined in spatial and temporal terms. Overlaying this body of work is a broader trajectory pointing tentatively towards a qualified regionalism.

Amongst recent work on the director, Stephen Teo’s book-length study Wong Kar-wai stands out in its attempt to map the cinematic and literary references that inform the director’s work.[1] [open footnotes in new window] Yet whereas Teo seems most concerned with establishing the aesthetic value of Wong’s oeuvre, I would argue that more work remains to be done in showing how these films orchestrate their intertextual vectors in relation to the characters' global movements. In doing so, the films' narratives articulate the possibilities and the limits of transcultural identification. Furthermore, these films emerge within the context of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China, highlighting the territory’s status as both postcolonial and neocolonial. Against this backdrop, Wong Kar-wai’s films frame global culture and territorial identity in terms of travel, and bring into doubt critical approaches founded on straightforward notions of either cultural hegemony or resistance.

Chungking Express:
intertextuality and identity

Chungking Express blends the genres of romantic comedy and film noir in two adjacent tales. The first of these follows an undercover cop known as “Cop 223” (Takeshi Kaneshiro), whose girlfriend May has left him. Cop 223’s spiral of melancholy is interrupted when he spends a platonic evening with a mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin), who is, unbeknownst to him, a drug trafficker. The second tale follows another lovelorn cop, plainclothes officer #663 (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who has a habit of talking to inanimate household objects. A regular customer at the Midnight Express takeaway bar, Cop 663 fails to notice that the cashier, Faye (Faye Wong), has fallen for him. He remains oblivious when she breaks into his apartment periodically, tidying and rearranging things. Finally he catches her in the act, and the two agree to a date at the California Bar. However, Faye departs for the “real” California instead, returning one year later to issue him a so-called “boarding pass” consisting of a paper napkin.

Chungking Express, like many of Wong Kar-wai’s films, emphasizes international travel. Characters are often leaving, have left or are about to leave for another country, and there is recurrent imagery of aeroplanes, passports, airports, toy jets and air hostesses. Alongside this “physical,” transnational movement is a parallel emphasis on “virtual,” transcultural mobility. The film actively plays with ideas of identity by investing itself with “foreign” cultural materials. These two parallel trajectories (the international and the intercultural) are closely linked, and can both be regarded within the context of identity formation.[2]

Despite its grounding in the context of mainstream Hong Kong cinema (in this case, the genres of action, romance and comedy), Chungking Express displays a variety of specifically foreign cultural references. The predominant tone of the film is informed by European and Japanese modernist “art” cinema. In particular, the breezy disregard for plot structure, the frequent musical interludes and the emphasis on style over psychology are reminiscent of the French New Wave films of Godard and Truffaut.[3] The piecemeal structure of the film reveals Wong’s affinity for South American writers, particularly Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Manuel Puig “(from whom, he says, he learnt to build a plot out of fragments).”[4] Like the novels and short stories of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Chungking Express is peppered with pop culture references, and features ordinary folk in situations which are at once mundane and absurd. Cop 223’s obsession with pineapple cans is one example. Conversely, Curtis Tsui finds that Wong’s privileging of “emotionally expressive visuals” over “directly-stated narratives and characterizations” can be related to the Taoist art of mainland China.[5] Finally and most prominently, Chungking Express is indebted to the U.S. tradition of film noir. This influence is manifested in many ways: the unidentified woman’s raincoat and her femme fatale persona; the two cops with their deadpan voiceovers and confused perspectives; the drug-running plot; and the foregrounding of the urban setting. The relationship between Cop 663 and Faye, with its lightness of tone and series of missed connections, is also reminiscent of U.S. romantic comedies.

In fact, U.S. culture seems omnipresent in Chungking Express: the film is riddled with U.S. music, fashion and commercial products. For Gina Marchetti, this emphasis on commodification extends to the characters, to the point where they become commodities themselves. For example, Cop 223’s failed relationship with his girlfriend May becomes embodied in the cans of Del Monte pineapple which have passed their sell-by date. Similarly, the repetition of “California Dreamin’,” by the Mamas and the Papas, serves not only to highlight Faye’s desire to leave Hong Kong, but also to foreground the fact that the song is an item for consumption: mass-produced, identical each time it is played, and readily recognizable to a global audience. Accordingly, Marchetti argues that Chungking Express and other Hong Kong films show the way that: “American goods move beyond the market to construct the individual.”[6] This leads her to pose the following question: “Is the hybridity of Hong Kong just a new take on American cultural imperialism?”[7]

Although Marchetti is right to emphasize the importance of cultural encounters to the process of identity formation, I think that she is too quick to position these encounters solely along an Asian-U.S. axis. The multiplicity of cultures represented in the film weakens the case for a monolithic, unitary culture which overwhelms all others with its hegemonic power, acting as the “structuring principle for identity.”[8] As Arjun Appadurai points out,

“the United States is no longer the puppeteer of a world system of images, but is only one node of a complex transnational construction of imaginary landscapes.”[9]

Arguing against straightforward accounts of cultural homogenization, Appadurai states that

“at least as rapidly as forces from various metropolises are brought into new societies they tend to become indigenized in one or another way.”[10]

Chungking Express is arguably an exercise in indigenization. Dancing to “California Dreamin’,” Faye wipes cabinets, juggles bottles of tomato sauce, and serves customers. There is an element of performance in Faye’s behaviour, a sense in which she offers an interpretation of the song. A layer of comic irony accumulates with each repetition, as Faye’s routine and her mundane environment become more and more associated with the music. In this case, identity is not so much invested in the cultural object (the song), as it is created in the return journey conducted between the self and the object. Indeed, the end of the film makes this metaphor literal, when Faye returns from the real California, stating that it is “nothing much.” Her journey has obviously changed her (she is now wearing the uniform of an air hostess), yet the changes have been complicated by her own interpretation of what she has seen and experienced. There also exists the possibility that Faye is not really an air hostess, and that her uniform is merely a costume she has acquired. In this reading, the costume would constitute a further extension of Faye’s performative behaviour. In any case, foreign cultural materials are appropriated by the other characters too: witness, for example, Cop 223’s idiosyncratic treatment of the Del Monte pineapple tins. Each character in his or her own way is investing these foreign objects with meanings that were never intended by their manufacturers.

Furthermore, Chungking Express, like Godard’s Breathless (1959), moves beyond indigenization and explores the limits of cultural identification. Not only do these two films pastiche the film noir genre, as Marchetti acknowledges[11] , they also work to disestablish its narrative mechanism. In Breathless, a young man (Jean-Paul Belmondo) with a penchant for imitating Humphrey Bogart steals a car, kills a policeman, and engages in a nonchalant affair with an U.S. woman (Jean Seberg), who later betrays him. The absence of a cohesive plot emphasizes the gap between the French characters and the Hollywood fantasies which they are aping, and a certain comic energy is generated in this way. In this sense, U.S. culture in Breathless is seen not only as a vehicle for identification but also as a stylistic accessory, something external — a definition of what the characters are not. Similarly, Chungking Express cloaks itself in the paraphernalia of U.S. culture, but it is an investment in style rather than substance. This tendency is perhaps best exemplified by the mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin). Like Faye, she appears to define herself in terms of iconic American imagery, in this case a noir-ish raincoat, sunglasses and blonde wig (Gina Marchetti goes as far as to suggest a connection with Marilyn Monroe). Unlike Faye, however, the unidentified woman’s adoption of Western/ U.S. style cannot clearly be linked to her aspirations or desires. After killing her boss she throws the blonde wig aside, yet we are denied a clear view of her face. The raincoat, sunglasses and wig function as a disguise, a way to conceal identity rather than express it.

Amongst Wong Kar-wai’s professed influences are other precedents for this exploration of identificatory limits. In Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Second Bakery Attack” a newlywed couple are stricken with a hunger so unbearable that they take thirty hamburgers from a McDonald’s restaurant in an armed hold-up.[12] U.S. referents in the story (Big Macs, Coca Cola, The Wizard of Oz) are characterized simultaneously by a banal familiarity and an alienating distance. They oscillate between the local and the global, refusing to be either indigenous or foreign, creating a suspension of identification. In Manuel Puig’s novel, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, a queer prisoner in an Argentinian jail recounts the plots of old Hollywood movies to his activist cellmate. In each case, comedy and pathos are generated by the incompleteness of the metamorphosis — by Belmondo’s failure to become Bogart, by the absurdity of Faye Wong’s exaggerated go-go dancing, and by the longing of Puig’s character for the distant world of old Hollywood movies. Thus, Chungking Express shows the limits of “American cultural imperialism”[13] and also betrays, in its very treatment of U.S. culture, the influence of other cultures (in this case, French and Argentine).

Whereas Marchetti emphasizes the way that consumer goods “construct the individual,” I would suggest that the foregrounding of consumer objects and surfaces (including the police and air hostess uniforms, as well as Brigitte Lin’s noirish disguise) points towards the impossibility of a full and complete representation of identity. The unidentified woman’s enigmatic exit is only the most obvious example. At the end of the film, the marking of Faye as a labour commodity (her air hostess uniform) parallels the masking of her intentions (will she stay with Cop 663?). We are given no insight as to why Faye might choose to leave the country rather than go on a date with Cop 663, the ostensible object of her desire. Similarly, Cop 663’s purchase of the Midnight Express takeaway bar is under-psychologized in “classical” narrative terms. Moreover, the film’s overall privileging of colour, light and movement over clear, composed shots goes hand-in-hand with this rejection of character psychology. If, as Marchetti suggests, the film “self-reflexively recognizes itself as a commodity for exchange within the international art film market,”[14] then it also displays an awareness of the limited possibilities for manifesting identity in such objects, including itself. In this sense, the film itself is a fetish object par excellence. In this context, identity is not vested in foreign consumer objects. Rather, it is an elusive property that exists in the space between individuals, objects, and cultures, transforming and being transformed by them simultaneously. Chungking Express is notable for the way it foregrounds these negotiations, exploring the uneven territory where the local and the global meet.

In this sense, Chungking Express enacts what Ackbar Abbas has called a kind of “new localism.” Abbas deems new localism to be the most effective response to colonialism (of which globalism, he argues, is only the most recent manifestation). Other approaches have already lost their sting:

“a process of immunization has already set in against their power to provoke or to redefine institutional parameters.”[15]

Old-fashioned localism fails because of the difficulty of locating authenticity, marginalism because it cedes power to the colonial centre, and cosmopolitanism because it fails to account for difference.[16] Relying upon dislocation, impurity and hybridity, new localism succeeds where others have failed by exploring the disjunctive zones where the local and global intersect.[17] For Abbas, Wong Kar-wai’s films exemplify this new localism, and represent a kind of postcolonial resistance. The skewed perspectives, blurred images and fractured continuity in Wong’s films are, for Abbas, strategies for critiquing the colonial gaze, which depends upon stability, order and clarity in order to function. In addition, Abbas equates genre formulas with “colonization and self-colonization by clichés,” and finds in Wong’s manipulation of genre a destabilization of colonialism.[18] Of course, in the case of Hong Kong, colonialism takes the form not only of British imperialism and U.S. cultural hegemony, but also China’s reclamation of the territory; the “postcolonial” resistance of Wong Kar-wai’s films must also function as resistance to the “neo-colonial.” Yet although Abbas’s notion of new localism is enlightening, his emphasis on resistance does not seem to fully account for the movements of identification taking place in the films. As I will be arguing, Wong’s films have an investment in narratives of modernity, an investment that serves to disrupt discourses of hybridity and resistance. This becomes particularly evident when examining later films such as Happy Together and In the Mood for Love.

Happy Together:
delays and reroutings

If Chungking Express shows Hong Kong as the site of a “new localism,” where U.S. global culture is acknowledged and indigenized, then Happy Together shows what happens when Hong Kong culture goes travelling. In this case, Argentina becomes the ground for the film’s negotiation of transcultural possibilities. The film follows a gay couple from Hong Kong, Ho Bo-wing and Lai Yiu-fai, who are travelling in Argentina. After an aborted trip to see the famed Iguaçu Falls, the two lovers settle in Buenos Aires. The film charts the serial breakdown and reconstruction of the relationship, driven by Bo-wing’s flighty and selfish behaviour. He finds work as a rent-boy, while the more loyal Fai becomes a doorman at a tango club. Eventually Fai throws out Bo-wing, and takes a job at a Chinese restaurant, where he meets Chang, an optimistic young man from Taiwan. Finally, however, Fai decides to return home, rejecting another attempt by Bo-wing to “start over.” In Taipei, Fai visits the food stall run by Chang’s parents, surreptitiously removing a photograph of Chang, and travels on Taipei’s rapid transit system, to the accompaniment of Danny Chung’s energetic cover of the British song “Happy Together.”

Again, “foreign” cultural referents are a significant textual element. French New Wave aesthetics are once more evident in the privileging of contemplation and stylistic manoeuvres over narrative construction, as well as the extensive use of handheld cameras. One is also reminded of Haruki Murakami’s stories by the film’s tendency to find oddness in domestic situations. The film’s working title, Buenos Aires Affair, was borrowed from a novel by Argentinian writer Manuel Puig, although the plot bears few similarities.[19] There are, arguably, some limited connections with other Argentinian novels. Stephen Teo comments that Happy Together recalls Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman in its “depiction of a relationship between two men in enclosed circumstances along the theme that love is free of gender,” and Julio Cortazar’s experimental novel Hopscotch, which focuses on an Argentinian writer living in Paris, his feelings of exile and his disharmonious relationship with a fellow (female) expatriate.[20] Yet these connections are tenuous at best. In his production diary, cinematographer Christopher Doyle laments the filmmakers’ inability to engage directly with the Argentinian setting, and asks:

“What happened to the inspiration from Manuel Puig’s structures and Julio Cortazar’s conceits? We’re stuck with our own concerns and perceptions.”[21]

In Happy Together, the physical voyage to Argentina is parallelled by a virtual voyage of the literary kind, conducted as a kind of homage to Puig and Cortazar. Yet in both senses, the physical and the virtual, this voyage is figured as a disappointment. Abandoning their broken-down car, Bo-wing and Fai are forced to return to Buenos Aires without seeing Argentina’s most famous tourist attraction, the Iguaçu Falls. In Fai’s apartment, a cheap lamp bearing a tacky reproduction of the Falls becomes a mocking reminder of the Argentina they had hoped to visit, as opposed to the squalid and alienating spaces they actually experience. If Chungking Express suggests that identity (in particular Hong Kong identity) can never be fixed in some pure, authentic state, Happy Together shows, on the other hand, that identity is not disconnected from locale. Failing to arrive in the Argentina of Puig and Cortazar, the characters end up inhabiting interior spaces reminiscent of those in Hong Kong.

However, the characters themselves do not display a strong drive for transcultural identification. Fai and Bo-wing’s journey is motivated by the touristic impulse, an impulse characterized by a deliberate separation between the Self and the Other, rather than a desire for identification. Argentinian identity is repressed or ignored in the film, while the characters have brought their own assumptions and customs with them, like any First-World tourist. This type of behaviour, writes Nick Kaldis, is usually seen exclusively in Western cinema.

“As such, this film represents a new shared imaginary world where America, Europe, Hong Kong and Taiwan are now more alike than different, at least in terms of development and modernization.”[22]

Yet Happy Together also emphasizes the gap between U.S. and Hong Kong characters, if only through Bo-wing’s offhand transactions with his American trick. At the same time as they confirm Hong Kong’s affinity with other modernized countries, both Happy Together and Chungking Express emphasize the limits of identification. Temporal identification (based around a common investment in modernization and progress) is insufficient to overcome the disjunctures of transcultural identification.

Queerness is another field of identification that cuts across questions of nationality. Could this be an alternative to territorial affiliation? Marc Siegel emphasizes the sense of freedom in the characters’ fleeting relationships, created by the disjunctures of global culture and travel:

“If globalism generates the possibilities for new kinds of looking, does it not also offer the potential for new kinds of feeling, new kinds of intimacy?”[23]

The problem with this utopian reading is that Fai is manifestly unhappy with the intimacy generated by globalism, insofar as it is represented by Bo-wing’s promiscuity. Perhaps Fai’s ambiguous friendship with Chang constitutes a new kind of feeling, but this is far removed from intimacy. Indeed, the ultimate dispersal of the three main characters indicates a certain failure in terms of the constitution of a queer community. Just as Argentina proves not to be a unifying ground for cultural identification, the queer “scene” in Buenos Aires fails as a rallying point for sexual identification. As in Chungking Express, relationships are characterized by evanescence and a sense of missed opportunities. Factors that might serve as unifying forces (nationality, modernity, sexual orientation) constantly prove inadequate to the task of bringing the characters together.

Yet the film ends with a gesture towards regional identification. After Fai leaves Buenos Aires, he flies to Taipei (en route to Hong Kong), where he visits the food stall run by Chang’s parents. There, he surreptitiously removes a photograph of Chang from the wall. The photograph shows Chang standing by the lighthouse at Argentina’s southern tip (it was Chang’s aim to visit “the end of the world”). Ultimately, the three young men at the centre of the film are all in a transitory state, caught between places: Fai is riding a train in Taipei, Bo-wing may or may not have remained in Buenos Aires and Chang has surely moved on but his photograph freezes him in time at “the end of the world”. Of the three, only Fai’s return home is certain: he wants to see his father. Yet the film never completes this process of reunification. Instead, almost perversely, it abandons him in Taiwan.

Here, I would argue that Taiwan functions to disrupt the unity of the Hong Kong-Argentina binary. Just as Chang presents Fai with an alternative to the overbearing Bo-wing, Fai’s arrival in Taiwan institutes another transcultural axis. Despite the fact that most Hong Kong and Taiwanese residents speak different Chinese dialects, the trip to Argentina has, for Fai, emphasized what he has in common with his Taiwanese neigbours. The bond he formed with Chang while working together in the Chinese restaurant in Buenos Aires is gently reinforced when he takes the photograph from Chang’s parents’ food stall. Yet the film does not go so far as to suggest a complete identification with Taiwanese culture. Fai’s brief sojourn there is characterized by transitory moments: the visit to the food stall, where he keeps his identity secret; the trip on the rapid transit line. The film suggests that Fai is en route to a homecoming, but at the same time delays or prevents its full and immediate attainment. We are left with an unfinished vector of movement.

As in Chungking Express, identity is an elusive property which moves between people, objects and cultures rather than being vested in them. The process of identification can be imagined as a trajectory that never arrives at its end point, but is constantly finding new targets, new itineraries. For Wong Kar-wai and his collaborators, the limits of transcultural identification are found in a Buenos Aires that is not present in the pages of Puig or Cortazar, but instead becomes the staging ground for a re-imagination of Hong Kong spaces. For Fai, his foreign experience triggers a return home – but significantly, to a home that is already different from the one he left. By suspending his return journey in Taiwan, the film leaves us in doubt as to what Fai might encounter in Hong Kong. Is the reunion with his father possible? Fai tries to telephone him from Taipei, but his father hangs up. The film itself was completed in 1997, the year of Hong Kong’s handover to China. While Fai has been away, what changes have already altered Hong Kong forever? And what else will change after July 1997? Just as the fantasy of literary or touristic Argentina has always already departed (for characters and filmmakers alike), the notion of Hong Kong as “home” is an unstable one. Rejecting complete identification with both the completely foreign (Argentina) and the completely familiar (Hong Kong), the film points tentatively towards a third possibility: regional identification.

In the Mood for Love:
nostalgia and regional identification

In the Mood for Love sees Wong Kar-wai returning to a Hong Kong setting, and further exploring the boundaries of regional identification. Set in the 1960s, the film follows the odd friendship which develops between two neighbours whose spouses are engaged in an affair. Trying to understand how the affair developed, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) enact the romance of the adulterers (whose faces we never see) – and begin to fall in love themselves. Their neighbours soon suspect that the pair’s platonic relationship is anything but chaste, a social pressure which forces them to part. In the following years, they almost cross paths a number of times. Finally, Chow finds himself in Cambodia in 1966 during De Gaulle’s state visit. Wandering amongst the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, Chow whispers a secret into a hole in an old stone wall.

As with the earlier films, foreign literary references are again prominent. According to Wong, the enacting of the adulterers’ liaisons by Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan represents

“a technique I learned from Julio Cortazar, who always has this kind of structure. It’s like a circle, the head and tail of a snake meeting.”[24]

However, In the Mood for Love displays more manifestly its connections with Chinese literature, particularly through the use of intertitles excerpted from Intersection, a novella written in 1972 by Liu Yichang. The plot of the novella, about two strangers brought together by life in the city, is reminiscent of many of Wong Kar-wai’s films. Wong has used Chinese literary antecedents before – Ashes of Time (1994) is based upon the martial arts book The Eagle-Shooting Heroes by Jin Yong. Intersection is significant, however, because it is by a diasporic writer (like Wong, Liu was born in Shanghai, and moved to Hong Kong at a young age). Accordingly, I will be arguing that In the Mood for Love registers a heightened consciousness of Hong Kong in relation to the nations and territories that surround it.

The film’s basic narrative formula (a couple’s love is pitted against the institutions of society, and is thwarted) is familiar from U.S. melodrama, and its precedents in European theatre. In the Mood for Love is also indebted to the U.S. nostalgia film, a genre which approaches “the ‘past’ through stylistic connotation” rather than historicity.[25] Accordingly, the film foregrounds period details (the wallpaper, Nat King Cole’s Spanish songs, Mrs. Chan’s Chinese print dresses or cheongsams, and Mr. Chow’s brilliantined hair), pushing history to the margins. This blending of nostalgia and melodrama is also reminiscent of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964), a French film which, as Dana Polan comments, was “one of the decisive influences” on In the Mood for Love.[26] Like Wong’s film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg shows the intrusion of history (the Algerian war) into the romantic world of the characters, while presenting the the past nostalgically: the 1950s is recreated as an array of candy-pink and yellow fashions and décors, while everyday life is juxtaposed with dream-like musical sequences. In the Mood for Love also showcases Wong’s avowed nostalgia for the films of Alfred Hitchcock in its claustrophobic atmosphere and creation of suspense through ellipsis.[27]

Conversely, Stephen Teo points out the importance of Chinese references when examining In the Mood for Love’s deployment of melodrama and nostalgia. First of all, Wong’s film draws upon the tradition of Chinese melodrama (or wenyi pian). Teo notes Fei Mu’s 1948 film Spring in a Small City as a significant example of this genre within mainland Chinese cinema. It tells the story of a woman who stands beside her sick husband, sacrificing the opportunity to be with her former lover. Like In the Mood for Love, it emphasizes qualities of honour and restraint.[28] Furthermore, the nostalgic evocation of Western culture in In the Mood for Love is matched by a profusion of Chinese references harking back to earlier periods such as the 1940s and 1950s and recalling in particular “the glories of Shanghai” through references to music, fashion, and martial arts serials.[29] Finally, the claustrophobic atmosphere in the film can be traced not only to Hitchcock but also to 1960s Hong Kong soap operas, many of which dealt with “just such housing problems and families living under the same roof as Wong speaks of.”[30]

In the Mood for Love, then, foregrounds Chinese cultures in a more direct way than either Chungking Express or Happy Together. This distinction can be related to the recent development of what Chu Yiu-wai describes as “a new transnational Chineseness,” a form of identification that blurs the boundaries between the local and the global, but retains a focus on the regional.[31]As Audrey Yue comments, In the Mood for Love

“returns to Hong Kong via the mobility of transnational routes engendered by Asian popular media, only to preoduce a space of regionality.”[32]

Yet while Yue emphasizes the way the film “reterritorialises the space between Hong Kong and China,” by showing the contribution of Shanghainese immigration and culture to Hong Kong modernity, it should be pointed out that the film does not mark a “return” to some all-encompassing Chinese identity.[33] Rather, In the Mood for Love invokes regional identification and then goes on to explore its limits. Accordingly, Sheldon Lu remarks that the appeal to an authentic, pre-historic notion of “Chineseness” is not a reliable option for Hong Kongers because

“they have lived a life without a proper nationality, being neither Chinese nor British.”[34]

Against this cultural backdrop, In the Mood for Love conducts its exploration of Asian regional spaces. First of all, it refers beyond China to Japan (the location of the affair and an endless source of consumer items). Secondly, the characters themselves travel physically beyond Hong Kong, visiting Singapore (where Mr Chow accepts a job) and Cambodia (where he goes to see the spectacular ruins at Angkor Wat). The film ends with Mr Chow wandering reflectively among the ruins. At the core of this enigmatic denouement, we might suggest, is a determination to avoid framing Hong Kong identity directly.

In fact, each of the films discussed here shows characters attempting to find solace and permanence in an iconic site outside of Hong Kong. In Chungking Express, Faye follows her American dream to California. In Happy Together, Fai and Chang seek out, respectively, the Iguaçu Falls and the lighthouse at Argentina’s southern tip. Regarded in the context of Hong Kong’s ambiguous political status both preceding and following the 1997 handover, these journeys can be read as attempts to cope with the resultant sense of uncertainty.[35] Similarly, Mr. Chow responds to the vagaries of love and missed appointments by seeking out something which will apparently always be there: the ruins. Unlike Chungking Express and Happy Together, however, which configure cross-cultural exchange largely as a long-distance relationship, In the Mood for Love emphasizes Hong Kong’s relation to geographically and historically proximate territories such as Singapore and Cambodia. Yet this relationship is not one of equivalence. Mr. Chow, like Fai and Bo-wing but unlike the residents of Cambodia, has a certain freedom of movement as a result of his socio-economic status. With this freedom comes a freedom of identification.

This sense of inequality comes into sharp relief when we regard the film’s discourse of identification in temporal terms. Rey Chow points out that nostalgia as presented in recent Hong Kong films “is the product of a materially well-endowed world.” Despite conveying

“a sense of loss and melancholy, nostalgia also works by concealing and excluding the dirty and unpleasant elements of social hardships.”[36]

Similarly, Blanche Chu frames the growing phenomenon of nostalgic sentiment in Hong Kong culture as

“about the making of use of a less ‘desirable’, i.e. less modernized and advanced, past — as an antithetical counterpart to reaffirm the ‘prosperous and stable’ present.”[37]

In this way, Mr. Chow’s journey to Singapore and Cambodia can be reframed as a voyage into the “past,” a movement of identification conducted along a temporal axis. Singapore as represented in the film resembles a premodern Hong Kong: the interiors seem like shabbier and more spartan versions of the Hong Kong locations. Cambodia is located even further in the past. As Mr. Chow walks among the ruins of Angkor Wat, he is observed by an enigmatic young monk — a figure of mysterious religiosity, but also of timelessness. From the “pre-developed” temporality of Singapore, we have moved to the “ancient” temporality of Cambodia. The characters’ journeys to other territories therefore become journeys in time: the spatial expresses the temporal. As Blanche Chu argues, In the Mood for Love’s deployment of nostalgia affirms the distance between “modernized” Hong Kong and its less developed neighbours. The separation of territories on temporal grounds therefore disrupts the discourse of regionalism.

History, however, enters the frame and limits our complete investment in the nostalgic reverie. First of all, the film deploys nostalgic references in a subtle and historicized sense. The consumer items which Mrs. Chan’s husband brings back from Japan (the handbags, the ties, the rice cooker) are acknowledged as commodities with a particular origin and history. This can be constrasted with consumer items in Chungking Express (the compact disc, the mysterious woman’s trenchcoat) that occupy the mise-en-scene as signifiers disconnected from their source. These items serve as catalysts for identification, but seem to refer only obliquely to their own provenance. In In the Mood for Love, on the other hand, the importing of foreign commodities is contextualized as an historical moment, and the power of commodities to incite adulation and hysteria (exemplified by Faye’s determination to get to California in Chungking Express) is limited.

More significantly, one might argue that Wong Kar-wai has tampered with the form of the nostalgia film. Once the lovers have parted, there is a series of missed meetings, followed by Mr. Chow’s Cambodian sojourn. At this point, we see footage of De Gaulle’s visit to Cambodia, and then Chow wanders among the ruins of Angkor Wat, whispering his secret into a hole in the stone. The film ends with a series of tracking shots among the ruins, with Chow nowhere to be seen. The characters’ ultimate fate is uncertain, although it seems all hope of reuniting the romantic leads has disappeared. Even more disconcertingly, the characters themselves seem to disappear. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, by comparison, ends with an agonizing parting between the two lovers, the onscreen union reinforcing the sense that these characters belong together. In the Mood for Love offers a certain sadness at the separation of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, but ultimately turns its back on the characters, finding nothing transcendent in the relationship that might fill the final frames. This sense of dislocation is reminiscent of Antonioni’s film L’éclisse (1962), which documents a low-key relationship between two young people (played by Monica Vitti and Alain Delon), and ends it by showing in a series of static shots the places they once frequented together. In both films, there is the disconcerting sense that history has somehow entered the frame, erasing the characters. The tracking shots through the ruins are also reminiscent of the opening moments of Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), in which the camera drifts like a disembodied presence along the hallways of an opulent building. Thus, in In the Mood for Love we can identify a splicing of the nostalgia film with the aesthetics of European modernist cinema, a technique that disrupts our investment in the narrative’s nostalgic temporality. The limit of identification surfaces in our very relationship with the characters, as Mr. Chow recedes from the frame, disappearing among the ancient ruins.

The ending of the film therefore represents a kind of narrative rupture, in which the possibilities for identification (both in terms of transglobal modernity and pan-Asian regionalism) are curtailed. Yet within this disruptive conclusion lies a final possibility for identification. For the political disruption of colonialism is one element that these nations have in common (Cambodia and Singapore, as well as Hong Kong). The clip showing De Gaulle’s visit to Cambodia hints at the fact that although Cambodia and Hong Kong may have distinctly different histories, it is nonetheless true that both have been drastically affected by the intervention of a European colonial power. In this sense, the disruption serves as the grounds for a tentative gesture towards unity — dislocation, in other words — is what they have in common. This is a unity that is by its nature ambivalent and lacking in real power, practically and politically. As with the failed romantic relationships in all of Wong’s films, we are witness to the melancholy of the impossible union. The ambivalent gesture at the end of In the Mood for Love is a reminder of this — if we have nothing else in common, the film seems to indicate, we have our melancholy.

journeys in space-time

2046, perhaps more than any other Wong Kar-wai film, turns inward, referring constantly to other films in the director’s oeuvre. In particular, it functions as a sequel of sorts to Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love, recycling the backdrop of 1960s Hong Kong, as well as certain characters, and the motifs of time, loss and memory. In 2046, Mr. Chow, still recovering from his failed relationship with Mrs. Chan, returns from Singapore to Hong Kong and undertakes a series of relationships: with a gambler in Singapore named Su Lizhen (this also happens to be Mrs. Chan’s maiden name), with a call-girl named Bai Ling (who lives in the hotel room next door to Mr. Chow), and with the hotel manager’s daughter, Wang Jingwen. Although Mr. Chow is evidently the same character as in In the Mood for Love, his sexual promiscuity and jaded outlook make him almost the inverse of the earlier film’s chaste gentleman. With the aid of Jingwen, Mr. Chow turns his hand to writing science fiction stories. Just as In the Mood for Love’s spatial journeys also functioned as journeys in time, Mr. Chow’s fictions envisage time travel conducted via a futuristic global rail network.[38] One story, entitled “2046,” involves a man returning via this rail network from a place called 2046, where people go in search of lost memories, and from which no-one has ever returned. In Japanese, this man (named in the credits as “Tak”) says that he went in search of his loved one, but failed to find her. He also comments that 2046 is a place where nothing ever changes, establishing it as another iconic site outside of contemporary Hong Kong (the equivalent of California, the Iguaçu Falls and Angkor Wat in the other films). 2046, Tak muses, is a modern version of an old-fashioned method for keeping secrets, which involved whispering them into a hole carved in a tree-trunk. In this way, 2046 is connected to Mr. Chow’s secret bond with Mrs. Chan, which he confesses to a hole in the ruins at Angkor Wat. Emphasizing this point, 2046 opens and closes with images of a dark hole that is evidently part of the décor in 2046. The entirety of the narrative, then, is a chain of secrets excavated from this hole.

2046 continues In the Mood for Love’s examination of regional identity, while extending its articulation of modernity into the future as well as the past. The film’s title refers to the fiftieth year of the period following the 1997 handover, during which China has promised not to alter Hong Kong’s economic and political system. Just as the 1997 handover and the mid-60s turmoil of Hong Kong generate anxiety in the earlier films, 2046 gestures towards another zone of temporal uncertainty in the future.[39] Indeed, although the contemporary moment is not represented in 2046, 1997 is the fulcrum upon which rest the film’s forays into nostalgia and science fiction. In the post-1997 context, the uncertainty regarding the handover is extended into a longer-term uncertainty regarding the subsequent half-century. For Tak, the pilgrimage to 2046 is aimed at retrieving memory, and is therefore a quest for identity. Similarly, the year 2046 raises questions of identity for the people of Hong Kong. What will be remembered, the film seems to ask, of Hong Kong as a distinct entity? Insofar as Tak’s voyage plots a trajectory of identification, his journey by train seems rather predetermined when compared with the international flights of Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love. The tracks have already been laid, it seems, for the changes that will affect Hong Kong in the future.

In terms of cultural references, 2046 largely works within the textual field established by In the Mood for Love, with a few differences. Stephen Teo notes that the intertitles in the film are drawn from another Liu Yichang novel, The Drunkard, and that Mr. Chow bears some similarities to that novel’s protagonist:

“a world-weary, alcoholic writer scraping a living from writing martial-arts and pornographic pulp fiction.”[40]

Teo also suggests parallels with the jaded characters in the fiction of Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai.[41] Some initial inspiration for the film is attributable to nineteenth-century Western operas. Peter Brunette notes that Wong’s intention was to have a three-part structure for the film, based upon Madame Butterfly, Carmen and Tannhaüser, respectively.[42] Apparently Wong felt that opera’s customary themes of “promise and betrayal” would reflect the film’s concern with China’s promise to the people of Hong Kong of “fifty years unchanged.”[43] Although the operatic influence is not readily apparent in the finished narrative, the soundtrack does incorporate some Bellini arias. As Teo notes, the selection of music is particularly broad, as it also spans Japanese and European compositions (from Umebayashi, Raben, Delerue and Preisner) and 1960s lounge music (Nat Kong Cole, Dean Martin and Connie Francis).[44] The most conspicuous difference from the earlier films, then, is the incorporation of science fiction imagery, namely futuristic cityscapes, time travel and androids. However, other than a tenuous connection to Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), with its focus upon androids who can feel human emotions, 2046 makes use of generalized sci-fi tropes.

As with In the Mood for Love, the spatial journeys of the characters all occur within the Asian region. Mainland China’s relationship with Hong Kong forms a backdrop for these regional connections, as Stephen Teo points out:

"On an allegorical level, the film denotes Hong Kong’s affair with China through Chow’s affairs with Mainland women: Zhang Ziyi [Bai Ling], Faye Wong [Jingwen], Gong Li [Su Lizhen] and Dong Jie [Jingwen’s younger sister, who flirts with Chow].”[45]

Of course, the failure of all of these relationships suggests a pessimistic view of the prospects for Hong Kong’s reunion with the mainland.

In terms of other Asian territories, 2046 follows a temporal logic inherited from In the Mood for Love. Mr. Chow is seen in Singapore on two occasions. He returns from Singapore at the beginning of the narrative, and goes back later to see if he can locate the gambler Su Lizhen (she has returned to Phnom Penh, he is informed). Singapore is therefore heavily associated with the past (it is connected not only to the aftermath of the relationship with Mrs. Chan, but also, via flashbacks, to the romance with the second Su Lizhen). The missed romantic opportunities of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan (the first Su Lizhen) are therefore multiplied here. This is reinforced when Bai Ling decides to move to Singapore after her relationship with Mr. Chow fails. Japan, by contrast, is linked to the future, via Tak’s journey to 2046. The character of Tak, it transpires, is based upon a Japanese businessman staying at the hotel where Mr. Chow lives. This young man has a romantic attachment to Wang Jingwen, despite the fact that Mr. Wang opposes the union, and they do not speak the same language. Indeed, the first time that we meet Jingwen, she is alone in her room, practising Japanese phrases. Later, her attempts to give the Japanese man street directions meet with comic bewilderment. The linguistic incommensurability of Jingwen and her suitor is parallelled by the fact that all of the stars in 2046 speak their mother tongue (variously, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese).[46] Later in the film, Mr. Chow acts an intermediary, passing on the Japanese man’s letters to Jingwen. Jingwen and Chow establish a platonic relationship, in which she helps him write. During this time, Chow endeavours to write a story for her about what her boyfriend is really thinking. Entitled “2047,” this story involves Chow imagining himself “as a Japanese man,” who falls in love with “an android with delayed reactions.” In 2046’s film-within-a-film, we see this story acted out, with Takuya Kimura (the Japanese businessman) and Faye Wong (Jingwen) playing the roles of Tak and the android, respectively.

This, then, is an imaginative transcultural trajectory, in which Chow projects his own feelings of desire and loss into the character of Tak. Surprisingly, however, the relationship between Jingwen and her Japanese suitor turns out happily after all, when Mr. Wang consents to the union. This is the only relationship in the film to resolve itself happily (although this occurs off-screen), and its success highlights the limits of Mr. Chow’s imaginative reach.

Later, Mr. Chow thinks about Wang Jingwen wistfully, wondering if a closer relationship could have blossomed between them. “Love,” he muses in voiceover, “is all a matter of timing.” Here, the imagined “android with delayed reactions” is a cipher for Jingwen’s platonic indifference to Mr. Chow. Insofar as Mr. Chow’s reflection upon timing relates to the broader question of transcultural identification, it highlights again the connection between modernity and identity in Wong’s films. 1960s Hong Kong, as a budding centre of international capitalism, might be seen to have an investment in the narrative of modernity exemplified by Japanese postwar progress (Tak’s futuristic bullet train). In the current climate, however, the much-publicized ascendancy of other Asian economies, particulary that of mainland China, turns the 1960s model of development and progress on its head. Conspicuously, the futuristic cityscape that accompanies the film’s closing credits is dominated by the logo of Korean electronics company LG. The future position of Hong Kong in relation to other Asian economies is characterized by uncertainty, despite a sense of inevitability regarding the persistence of global capitalism.

In 2046, Chow’s real and imaginary spatial trajectories are parallelled by temporal trajectories. The film itself begins with two return journeys, one spatial (Chow returning from Singapore to Hong Kong) and one temporal (Tak coming back from 2046). The intertwining of space and time continues throughout the film. In “2047,” Tak remarks upon the coldness of “Zone 1224-1225,” a coded reference to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Also, 2047 is the number of Chow’s hotel room (2046, which reminded him of the room he shared with Mrs. Chan in In the Mood for Love, was taken; it is later occupied by Bai Ling and Jingwen). The failed love affairs that traverse these various space-times set up a constant relationship between proximity and dislocation. Chow’s speculative trajectories into other cultural spaces (his search for Su Lizhen in Singapore, and his rendering of the Tak/Jingwen relationship) consistently come up short. Equally, his attempt to imagine the future as a projection of his melancholic present fails to make its connection: Tak is left on the train back from 2046, a place from which no-one has ever returned. “2046” and “2047” highlight the (nostalgic) past’s failure to connect with the (science-fictional) future.

These attenuated trajectories find formal expression in what can be described as the film’s aesthetic of non-identity. Just as Mr. Chow appears not to resemble the earlier version of himself from In the Mood for Love, Su Lizhen (the gambler, played by Gong Li) bears little in common with the earlier Su Lizhen (Mrs. Chan, but also the young woman in Days of Being Wild, both played by Maggie Cheung). There is also the character of Lulu/Mimi, who also appears in Days of Being Wild, but professes no acquaintance with Mr. Chow, who claims to know her from Singapore. The film plays upon this theme in very self-conscious ways. For example, after Bai Ling fails to meet Chow at a dinner party, his friends evidently submit him to a prank which involves shaving off half of his moustache. “You made me lose my moustache,” he jokingly accuses her. At this point, Mr. Chow’s face is a split image: one half clean-shaven, as in In the Mood for Love, and one half bearing a rakish moustache. Mr. Chow himself seems split between these two types: the mourning lover and the callous womanizer.

Throughout the film, the constant presence of mirrors highlights this play with identity. Furthermore, shots are consistently composed with characters pushed to one side of the frame while the other side is taken up with large, flat areas (curtains and walls, for example) in the foreground. This bisection of the frame is taken to such extremes that at times it appears that the filmic image is split; it is not, so to speak, identical with itself. Conversations are often blocked in such a way that one interlocutor is fully obscured. The result is that characters often share the frame with large blank spaces, or with themselves (in mirror images). This aesthetic of non-identity perfectly captures the imaginative trajectories of the characters, who project desire across walls, national boundaries and even decades, but are confronted instead with solitude and melancholy reflection.

Conclusion: trajectories of identification

The four films I have discussed all negotiate identity, to varying degrees, through encounters with foreign cultures. In each case, transnational travel parallels the virtual vectors of transcultural identification, so that the characters and the films themselves follow trajectories of identification, trajectories that are continually being diverted, rerouted, and interrupted. These trajectories can be plotted along two main thematic axes: one defined by hybridity, the other by nostalgia and, in the case of 2046, futurism.

The former axis sees identity as made up of diverse cultural inputs, while the latter expresses the commonality of modernity. The former emphasizes space (the multifarious encounters produced by travel), while the latter emphasizes time (the linear movement of progress). Wong Kar-wai’s films are all constructed around these two defining axes, although the emphasis is constantly shifting. Often, the two tendencies exist in the same moment. For instance, “California Dreamin’” in Chungking Express acts as a staging point for Faye’s cultural hybridity, but also as a trigger for 1960s nostalgia. Consequently, there is a tension in the films between spatial fluidity and liminality on the one hand, and temporal determinacy (the affirmation of the modern moment) on the other. In the Mood for Love and 2046 show the way that these two vectors of identification (the hybrid and the nostalgic-futuristic) constantly interrupt each other, turning identification back on itself. This process presents a problem both for those readings of the films which emphasize postcolonial “resistance” (see Abbas), as well as those that emphasize Western cultural hegemony (see Marchetti’s analysis of Chungking Express). Nostalgia and futurism, with their investment in narratives of modernity, weaken the case for the films as evidence of postcolonial resistance. On the other hand, hegemonic readings are intercepted and overturned by the array of heterogeneous cultural references, and the frequent framing of those references as a limit to identification.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong’s territorial identity appears to resist articulation, there is a sense of place in these works, however elusive. Hong Kong is still at the centre of the quest for identity, but it is constantly displaced, conceptualized in terms of its distance (spatial, temporal, cultural, historical) from other places. Regarding these three films together, one observes a shifting field of identification. As I have suggested, this field moves progressively towards the regional in Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and 2046. Yet in the latter two films, regional identification, as with cultural and temporal modes of identification in the other films, is ultimately questioned. The closest Wong Kar-wai gets to articulating a stable Hong Kong identity is, finally, to suggest the universality of instability. This model of unity through disjuncture is deeply ambivalent, suggesting commonality through the very impossibility of commonality. It is an articulation of identity that produces a certain optimism even as it crushes the possibility for unified identification. This paradox informs both the romantic relationships that drive the films, and the discourse of territorial identity that permeates them. In this way, it contributes in no small measure to the particular blend of melancholia and frenetic joie de vivre that characterizes Wong’s work.


1. Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-wai (London: British Film Institute, 2005). For another recent book-length study, see Peter Brunette, Wong Kar-wai (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005). Brunette is also concerned with establishing Wong’s legacy as an auteur, but does not explore Wong’s influences as comprehensively as Teo.

2. James Clifford suggests just such an analogic relationship between culture and travel, proposing the idea of “culture as travel,” but also “as sites traversed — by tourists, by oil pipelines, by Western commodities, by radio and television signals.” James Clifford, “Traveling Cultures,” in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies(New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 103.

3. In an interview, Wong has stated that he had in mind French New Wave director Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961) while shooting the second part of Chungking Express. In the first part, the mysterious woman’s blonde wig and raincoat are drawn from John Cassavetes’ Gloria (1980).  See Wong Kar-wai, “Interview with Wong Kar-wai (Toronto International Film Festival, 1995),” interview with Peter Brunette, in Peter Brunette, Wong Kar-wai, 115.

4. David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 270.

5. Curtis K. Tsui, “Subjective Culture and History: The Ethnographic Cinema of Wong Kar-wai," Asian Cinema 7, no. 2 (1995): 94. For a similar argument connecting Hong Kong cinema aesthetics with classical Chinese art, see Joelle Collier, "A Repetition Compulsion: Discontinuity Editing, Classical Chinese Aesthetics, and Hong Kong's Culture of Disappearance," Asian Cinema 10, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 1999): 67-79.

6. Gina Marchetti, "Buying American, Consuming Hong Kong: Cultural Commerce, Fantasies of Identity, and the Cinema," in Poshek Fu and David Desser, eds., The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 306.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Public Culture 2, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 4.

10.Ibid., 5.

11. Marchetti, “Buying American, Consuming Hong Kong,” 306.

12. This tale is included in Murakami’s collection of short stories The Elephant Vanishes, trans. Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 35-49

13. Marchetti, “Buying American, Consuming Hong Kong,” 306.


15. Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997), 14.

16. Ibid., 11.

17. Ibid., 28.

18.Ibid., 36.

19. Wong Kar-wai, “Wong Kar-wai: One Entrance, Many Exits,” interview by Richard J. Havis, Cinemaya 38 (October 1997): 15.

20. Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-wai, 102-3.

21. Christopher Doyle, “To the End of the World,” Sight and Sound 7, no. 5 (May 1997): 16.

22. Nick Kaldis, “Third World,” in Fiona A. Villella, ed., "The Cinema of Wong Kar-wai — A Writing Game," Senses of Cinema 13(April-May 2001),
(accessed November 16, 2003).

23. Marc Siegel, “The Intimate Spaces of Wong Kar-wai,” in Esther C.M. Yau, ed., At Full Speed: Hong Cinema in a Borderless World. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 288. For a completely opposing view, see Audrey Yue, "What's So Queer About Happy Together? a.k.a. Queer (N)Asian: Interface, Community, Belonging," Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1, no. 2 (2000): 251-64. Yue finds a heterosexual bias underlying the narrative, and attacks the film for valorizing Fai’s “straight” behaviour over Bo-wing’s “decadent excess” (255). However, this approach depends greatly upon the conflation of homosexuality and excess, while failing to account for the similarly excessive behaviour of straight characters in Wong’s other films.

24. Wong Kar-wai, “In the Mood for Edinburgh,” interview by Tony Rayns, Sight and Sound 10, no. 8 (August 2000): 17.

25. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 19.

26. Dana Polan, “Look,” in Fiona A. Villella, ed., "The Cinema of Wong Kar-wai — A Writing Game," Senses of Cinema 13(April-May 2001),
(accessed November 16, 2003).

27.Wong Kar-wai, interview by Scott Tobias, The Onion 37, no. 7 (February 28, 2001),
(accessed November 16, 2003).

28. Stephen Teo, “Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time,” Senses of Cinema 13 (April-May 2001),
(accessed November 16, 2003).

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Chu Yiu-wai, "(In)authentic Hong Kong: The '(G)local' Cultural Identity in Postcolonial Hong Kong Cinema," Post Script 20, nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring 2001): 148.

32. Audrey Yue, “In the Mood for Love: Intersections of Hong Kong Modernity,” in Chris Berry, ed., Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes (London: British Film Institute, 2003), 131.

33. Ibid., 132.

34. Sheldon Lu Hsiao-peng, "Filming Diaspora and Identity: Hong Kong and 1997," in Poshek Fu and David Desser, eds., The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 275.

35. The 1997 handover is the dominant theme in critical responses to Wong Kar-wai’s films (and to recent Hong Kong cinema generally). See, for example, Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance, and Stephen Teo, Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (London: British Film Institute, 1997).

36. Rey Chow, “A Souvenir of Love,” in Esther C.M. Yau, ed., At Full Speed: Hong Cinema in a Borderless World. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 226.

37. Blanche Chu, "The Ambivalence of History: Nostalgia Films Understood in the Post-Colonial Context," Hong Kong Cultural Studies Bulletin, nos. 8-9 (Spring-Summer 1998): 43.

38. Stephen Teo asserts that 2046 is “a time odyssey (not a space odyssey, as some critics mistakenly assume).” See Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-wai, 141. Although Teo is correct to place emphasis on the film’s excavation of the past and the future, the film’s conflation of spatial and temporal imagery produces what might be better described as a “space-time odyssey.” Accordingly, Peter Brunette also notes the fact that 2046 is “presented not so much as a date but rather as a place.” See Peter Brunette, Wong Kar-wai (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 103.

39. As Stephen Teo comments, the train journey in 2046 is emblematic of an “anxious thrust towards the future,” linking it both to Fai’s train-ride at the end of Happy Together and the bike-ride through the tunnel at the end of Wong’s Fallen Angels 1995). See Wong Kar-wai, 141.

40. Ibid., 151.

41. Ibid.

42. Peter Brunette, Wong Kar-wai, 107.

43. Wong Kar-waii, “Interview with Wong Kar-wai (Cannes Film Festival, 2001),” interview by Gilles Ciment, in Peter Brunette, Wong Kar-wai, 132.

44. Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-wai, 149.

45. Ibid.

46. Stephen Teo comments that the “device” of having these actors speak their own language contributes to the film’s pan-Asian appeal. This suggests, I would add, a paradoxical relationship between cultural translation and difference. Stephen Teo, Wong Kar-wai, 153-4.

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