Blu-ray Review: Criterion's Massive WORLD OF WONG KAR WAI Box Set
The recently released box set is as lush and deluxe as the director's visuals.
Physical media is a beautiful thing for those who still treasure it. It can be held, viewed, borrowed, or even traded or sold, and unless something happens to it, there's never a chance that your chosen streaming service won't have it, because that doesn't matter.
The point is, you own it. You can touch it and treasure it. Often, there are wonderful bonus features you can't find anywhere else, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the film. Sometimes physical media also comes with cool booklets or inserts that you can't read online, or sometimes, a gorgeous companion book.
This is the case with the Criterion Collection's recently released World of Wong Kar Wai box set. It. Is. Stunning. Even the case and cover of the included French-fold book feels lush, the lovely, soft matte texture gliding smoothly beneath one's touch. And that book also includes gorgeous photos and vellum pages which gently hold little neo-lobby cards of sorts --- well, without the usual, studio-endorsed text. They're more like delicate postcards made from stills of Wong's films.
Truly, a director could scarcely hope for a better presentation of one's early filmography. Wong is a deeply romantic filmmaker who has captured audiences' hearts and imaginations worldwide through his evocative use of visuals, sound, and by just letting moments breathe --- particularly via his incredibly talented, gorgeous actors.
Usually paired with long-time collaborator and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the two conjure up moods that can sometimes be difficult to put into words. The indescribable longing for a love you cannot --- or dare not have. Missed connections. The inability to go after what you really want. The loss of what that could have been.
And there's such beauty in these moments that dialogue isn't needed. Not for a second. It's far more delicious to just sit back and watch the emotions unfold on the screen. The things left unsaid. The desire left unconsummated.
Of course, there are the rich colors and eye-catching textures for which we've come to associate Wong and Doyle. The deep crimson of creamy, inviting lips, or the lacquered emerald of a bespoke purse. The glittery gold piping or shimmery brocade of a form-fitting dress. You can get lost in the details.
I'm no film scholar, so I'll leave all the film theory and analyzation to the pros. After all, there's so much that's been written you can find, should you want to delve deeper.
Every film included has been revisited by Wong for this set. Not content to simply restore what he created in his early career, Wong has deepened or changed color palettes, and in one case, has even altered the aspect ratio. Some fans choose to remember the films as they were, but the master chooses to evolve.
As Tears Go By
Wong's first film is a 1988 gangster thriller that earned so much box office clout that he felt comfortable doing something completely different for his sophomore effort. Anyway, Wah (Andy Lau) and Ngor (Maggie Cheung) are cousins who fall for each other. He collects debts for his triad overlords. She's in the city to see a doctor for her bad cold. Things get complicated when Wah's brother (Jacky Cheung) attempts to follow in Wah's footsteps.
Days of Being Wild
Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) and Su (Maggie Cheung) fall for each other, in a sense, but not enough to fully connect. Yuddy has never been sure that he's fallen in love with any woman, and Su is unfortunately, squarely in that category. Yuddy is also on the search for his birth mother, an obsession that doesn't leave much room for any other women in his life. Su makes friends with a cop (Andy Lau) doing the rounds, and it seems that relationship would come to something instead of with Yuddy, but that never happens, either.
The green-blue hue of the film lends a pensive, dream-like tone. This feature was the first on which Wong and Doyle collaborated; the cinematographer shot the film through a green filter. This plot isn't strictly linear, and Tony Leung appears at the end, setting up a sequel or epilogue that never comes to fruition. Both points have results in some frustrated audiences.
An alternate version of the film is included on this disc in the supplements section, with a different prologue and other edits, sourced from a 35mm print. Also in the special features, Doyle gives an interesting interview about the making of the film.
This one marked Wong's splash into the waters of global audiences. Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro play policemen in a Hong Kong that feels alive itself, neon and pulsing with energy. They often eat at a favorite noodle shop where Faye (Faye Wong) works and has "California Dreamin'" on constant rotation. At the same time, a blonde woman (Brigitte Lin) hires Indian men to transport drugs and the storylines collide. There another supplemental Doyle interview here worth watching.
A hitman (Leon Lai) trying to return to normal society and his maid (Michelle Reis) are the focus of this story, a spinoff of Chungking Express. Told in lots of wide angle lenses and kinetic movements, this film reflects the music video culture of the world at the time (1995). This is the film for which Wong altered the aspect ratio --- to CinemaScope, which makes everyone feel more dwarfed by the Hong Kong scenery. This is also the disc which has the excellent supplement in which Wong answers questions from other well-known filmmakers.
Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung return to Wong's universe, this time as a couple in Argentina who just can't seem to find real happiness. Instead, jealousy and anger tear the men apart as they try to figure out this turbulent time in their lives. Saturated, sometimes steamy, there's great camerawork from Doyle here.
In the Mood for Love
Starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, this is arguably Wong's most well-known, well-received film. The absolutely gorgeous colors and cinematography from Doyle combined with the costuming (which inspired Mad Men) and poignant pauses from its beautiful stars make this film a special treat. Total eye candy and sensual longing in the story of two neighbors who discover that their constantly traveling spouses are cheating on them. They develop a friendship and stage gentle confrontations on each other in softly sad melodramas. You think they'd go for it, fall in love, run away. They seem to be headed that way, but Wong doesn't allow them to, which perhaps lends the story to be more realistic in that sense, depending on your point of view.
The last film in this incredible box set is somewhat of a sequel to In the Mood for Love. Tony Leung returns as the same character, the lovelorn science fiction author who can't seem to find a real partner. He channels his experiences and emotions into the story of a man who falls in love with an android on his way to the future. Once again, there's no real connection. There are some lovely sequences here when the film goes sci-fi; of course everything is beautiful.
Phew. Let's check out the slew of special features!
SEVEN-BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION COLLECTOR’S SET FEATURES
• New 4K digital restorations of Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and 2046, approved by director Wong Kar Wai, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
• New 4K digital restorations of As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
• New program in which Wong answers questions submitted by authors André Aciman and Jonathan Lethem; filmmakers Sofia Coppola, Rian Johnson, Lisa Joy, and Chloé Zhao; cinematographers Philippe Le Sourd and Bradford Young; and filmmakers and founders/creative directors of Rodarte, Kate and Laura Mulleavy
• Alternate version of Days of Being Wild, on home video for the first time
• Extended version of The Hand, a 2004 short film by Wong, available in the U.S. for the first time
• Hua yang de nian hua, a 2000 short film by Wong
• Interview and “cinema lesson” with Wong from 2001
• Several programs featuring interviews with Wong; actors Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chang Chen, Faye Wong, and Ziyi Zhang; and others
• Program from 2012 on In the Mood for Love’s soundtrack
• Deleted scenes, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes footage, a promo reel, music videos, and trailers
• PLUS: Deluxe packaging, including a perfect-bound, French-fold book featuring lavish photography, an essay by critic John Powers, a director’s note, and six collectible art prints
• New cover by Nessim Higson
On the whole, the 4K digital restorations are very good to excellent, with sound being superb. Extras vary by disc and film; I loved the featurette in which Wong answered questions from other filmmakers, such as Chloé Zhao, Rian Johnson, and Sophia Coppola. The essay in the book from critic John Powers is an in-depth exploration into Wong's work included in this impressive set.
There are also tons of deleted scenes and some alternate endings, as well as some gorgeous, high-fashion music videos Wong was commissioned to direct, in addition to Wong's segment The Hand from the film Eros, which I found quite lovely.
Want to add this beast of a set to your home video library? Head on over to Criterion here, where you can also check out more details and the insanely deluxe packaging of this incredible set --- and don't forget to watch the trailer for the restoration of the set below.