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Return of the master: Screen/Society organizes seven-film Wong Kar Wai retrospective

<p>Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film “In the Mood for Love” tells the story of a man and a woman whose spouses have an affair together and who slowly develop feelings for each other.</p>

Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film “In the Mood for Love” tells the story of a man and a woman whose spouses have an affair together and who slowly develop feelings for each other.

One of the most internationally acclaimed auteurs of contemporary cinema, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai returns to the public sphere with a 4k restoration series in collaboration with Janus Films. Both innovative and retrospective, the “World of Wong Kar Wai” series features seven of the writer-director-producer’s best works: “As Tears Go By,” “Chungking Express,” “Days of Being Wild,” “Fallen Angels,” “The Hand,” “Happy Together” and, last but certainly not least, “In the Mood for Love.” As a die-hard fan of Wong, I could only pinch my thigh to stop myself from jumping through the roof when I found out that Screen/Society, along with Duke’s Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (APSI), managed to bring the entire restoration package to its online screening platform, free of charge to the Duke and Durham community until Feb. 7.

But of course, I figured that a celebratory dance in my bed in front of my “In the Mood for Love” poster would be permitted, as I puffed up my pillows, poured myself a cup of steaming peach honey tea and got ready to re-watch some of my favorite cinematic pieces of all time and re-experience those intimate, intricate and intriguing emotions that Wong never fails to produce in me. This time, like always, with his lush colors and sharp directorial instincts that can bring sensuality out of tin noodle cans, Wong characteristically paints a dangerously charming 1960s Hong Kong full of aimlessly ambitious twentysomethings (almost always played by the biggest superstars in Asia at the time), unexpectedly quirky romances and cosmopolitan melancholics. Gritty, naughty and yet all the more ravishing, the “World of Wong Kar Wai” is just way too beautiful of a nightmare to wake up from.

“Overall, Wong Kar Wai is just such a fascinating filmmaker who falls in this interesting space that bridges arthouse cinema and genre films. You know, ‘As Tears Go By’ has some storyline similarities with aspects of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ … but it also has these visual, cinematic, experimental flourishes that borrow from the language of the avant-garde but are also experiments of developing his own visual style with his cinematographer,” said Hank Okazaki, the programmer of Screen/Society.

Wong’s unique storytelling and visual styles have indeed inspired and influenced generations of filmmakers who are deeply struck by the intimacy, originality and spontaneity in his movies.

“I saw ‘Chungking Express’ in 1994, long before I had any notion of becoming a filmmaker myself. But in watching Wong Kar Wai’s films, they felt like life, and more specifically, life as it should be,” added Steve Milligan, a faculty member of the Cinematic Arts program at Duke and professional cinematographer who has been personally influenced by the works of Wong and his longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle to pursue a filmmaking career.  

However, the series does offer a little something to new and old fans alike. Taken from the original 35mm film camera negatives by the Criterion Collection and L’Immagine Ritrovata, the 4k digital restoration is closely supervised by the filmmaker himself and represents his original visions for the movies. For example, the aspect ratio of “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love” was altered to match the original version, while “Fallen Angels” is newly presented in cinemascope, which the crew couldn’t achieve years ago due to a mistake in the post-production process. Some other sound-mixing choices were also altered, and the director’s cut of “The Hand” boasts many never before seen surprises.

“I think the nice thing about a retrospective series is that it allows you to get an insight into a filmmaker in a different way than you normally would by seeing films here or there in a haphazard way. Sometimes, seeing the films together in a block brings out things in individual films that you might not have noticed or responded to … if they weren’t in dialogue with the [other works],” Okazaki explained.

Indeed, the restoration series offers a fresh opportunity for viewers to examine and trace the artistic developments of the cinematic master and perhaps get ready for his slate of newly announced upcoming projects. 

Besides the “World of Wong Kar Wai,” Screen/Society has also lined up more screenings in the coming months. For instance, a series called “New Releases/New Restorations” will be showcased from Feb. 11 to Feb. 28, featuring recent New York Film Festival favorites such as “The Inheritance,” “Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” and “Smooth Talk.” As for March, stay tuned for a Duke edition of the 2021 Tournées French Film Festival with six to seven films available for online streaming. 

Tickets are limited for Screen/Society online screenings and will only be available on a first-come, first-served basis. After claiming a ticket, you have up to 10 days to start watching the film and 24 hours to finish it.

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