So I had the good fortune of having a Wong Kar-Wai film fest this past weekend as I’ve always been a big fan of his work but ironically hadn’t seen Chungking Express or Ashes of Time until Friday night. My introduction to Wong Kar-Wai came in the form of the 2004 film 2046, were Tony Leung plays an enamored author in the midst of the glitz and glamour of Hong Kong in the 1960’s. Time and love in that film are also motifs that Wong deftly employ to spin a tale that is much deeper than what might appear on the surface. Without giving too many spoilers, you’ve got post WWII tensions between Chinese and Japanese relations, the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong, the consumerism that ran rampant through out the 60’s, a host of views on feminism, and even commentary on the current state of relationships in a technologically driven world. Now some of this I realized while watching the film, but some of the more nuanced aspects of the film (like the relation of time) I didn’t explicitly understand until Brunette’s critique.

And now I think I can fully appreciate what good critique brings to the table. While I understand all the themes present in Brunette’s summary I was not actively looking for them ergo I couldn’t appreciate the complexity and depth of the film past an entertaining story. Reading this critique is akin to finding a layer of ice cream in a cake that you didn’t realize was an ice cream cake to begin with. Now I don’t agree with all of Brunette’s commentary (and I’m not sure he does either, as it seems he is merely a curator of critique rather than an author of one), for instance the take on political commentary on the expiration dates found in Chungking Express. To me Wong is fairly explicit in the objects and motifs that he uses, and that the inference of Hong Kong’s transference of power from the British to the PRC is something that the critic found rather than something Wong put it. However, as I have no personal experience with Hong Kong or the mentality of its residents during that period I do not feel qualified to right out deny the claim that there is some explicit political commentary within the film (as I acknowledge that there is always implicit political commentary in every work).

Regardless, I’m still having some trouble reconciling what is worth critique and what isn’t. What I mean by this is that while Chungking and 2046 were wonderful movies that had a ton of layers behind them there are other movies that don’t have much past the surface.

You know what, in the middle of writing this I realized the previous two sentences did not have to be true for my example. 

Case in point, I also watched another Hong Kong classic Hardboiled by John Woo and tried to find some the underlying layers hidden within the glory of Chow Yun-Fat wielding two semi-automatic 1911’s and blasting gangsters away. While there is a traditional crime drama narrative the most compelling motif is that of the blurring of morality between gangsters and policemen. Chow’s character “Tequila” is shown as an honorable cop that likes to break the rules, while Tony Leung character is a gangster/undercover cop that adheres to the rules (both in crime and being a cop). While these two characters are basically two sides of the same coin they start off as bitter enemies but soon discover that they are after the same thing, the end of the evil crime boss. This team up and misconception of roles harkens back to a number of western movies that Chow drew from in making Hard Boiled, including a Fist Full of Dollars and A few Dollars More.

While this rudimentary critique was perhaps shallow in content I think I’ve demonstrated to myself that so long as you have a good understanding of the context of whatever you’re critiquing some sort of meaning can be gleaned from a professional critic. That’s kind of trippy.