Love & Neon: The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai

30 Apr 2021 – 16 May 2021 | GOMA | Cinema A

The thing is they don’t know what they’re missing.  With the big screen at home, they feel like, 'I’ve seen the movie', but that’s not the case. When you look at it in that format, it’s something else. The best way is to go to the cinema to watch it. It’s what it’s supposed to be.” Wong Kar Wai

Wong Kar Wai’s cinema is intrinsically linked to urban spaces and the lives of city dwellers, who are often in close proximity but psychologically miles away. Across eleven feature films, Wong Kar Wai (and his regular collaborators William Chang and Christopher Doyle) has crafted a cinematic universe that’s instantly recognisable, and often imitated.

What makes cinema so attractive, so fascinating is that it’s not just a one plus one process, it’s chemistry between sound, words, ideas and image.” Wong Kar Wai

This desire to experiment has led Wong to boldly play with genre – gangster, melodrama, sci-fi, wuxia – often throwing several into the one film, whilst also embracing the poetic, fragmented structures of Latin American literature as inspiration for many of his films. But for all his genre hopping, Wong Kar Wai anchors us with faces – Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Faye Wong, Leslie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi – forever linked to his filmmaking.
With an exacting approach to the language of cinema – the way he moves a camera, inserts a musical cue, slows down the frame, just enough to break our heart – Wong Kar Wai elevates cinema from mere storytelling. He offers up a genuinely cinematic space; a city so real we almost believe it exists, populated by beautiful stars navigating love, heartbreak and all the longing in-between.

Please note: due to the overwhelming popularity of the program in Sydney and Melbourne, tickets for all screenings must be booked in advance. Entry is free and tickets are available now. Seating is allocated and tickets are required for entry.

Program curated by Kristy Matheson, Director of Film, ACMI. Film notes written by Kristy Matheson, Director of Film, ACMI.

About Wong Kar Wai
Born in Shanghai in China in 1958, Wong Kar Wai's family moved to Hong Kong in 1963. He studied graphic design at Hong Kong Polytechnic but quit to join the Television Broadcasts Ltd training program where he worked as a production assistant and assistant director. Between 1982 and 1987, he worked as a screenwriter for a number of prominent Hong Kong directors such as Patrick Tam (Final Victory). In 1988 he directed his first feature film, As Tears Go By. To date Wong has directed 11 feature films (including Ashes of Time: Redux), numerous commercials for prominent brands like BMW and Christian Dior, music videos for artists such as DJ Shadow and short works. Wong is currently in China producing his latest project, Shanghai Blossoms. In 1997, Wong became the first Chinese director to win Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for his film, Happy Together.

Director's Note from Wong Kar Wai
During the process of restoring the pictures that you are about to watch, we were caught in a dilemma between restoring these films to the form in which the audience had remembered them and how I had originally envisioned them. There was so much that we could change, and I decided to take the second path as it would represent my most vivid vision of these films. For that reason, the following changes were made.

Aspect Ratios
Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love were shot and released theatrically on 1.66:1, one of my favorite aspect ratios, but they were converted to 1.85:1 on videogram. Since most people experienced these films on videogram, it perpetuated the belief that they were shot on 1:85:1. With these restorations, you will be watching them in their original aspect ratios. With Fallen Angels, I have changed the format to cinemascope, because it was originally what I had intended to release the film in. When we were cutting the film, we accidentally turned the Steenbeck on anamorphic instead of standard. I felt that the film looked much more interesting because it enhanced the distance of the characters on top of the extreme wide angle that we shot on. Back then, it was impossible to shoot a film in standard and release it in anamorphic. With this restoration, we have successfully fulfilled this wish. 

Sound Mixing
Chungking Express was made before 5.1 surround sound, so we had to retool the settings and sound configurations this time.

Likewise, we also remixed In the Mood for Love, and Robert Mackenzie did a great job as we collaborated remotely during the pandemic.

We created new credits for a consistent look throughout the films. They are also a reminder to our audience that these are the restored versions.

Happy Together
During a fire accident in 2019, we lost some of the original negative of Happy Together. In the ensuing months, we tried to restore the negative as much as we could, but a portion of it had been permanently damaged. We lost not only some of the picture, but also the sound in those reels.

As a result, I had to shorten some of Tony’s monologues, but with the amazing work of L’Immagine Ritrovata, we managed to restore most of the scenes to better quality.

Final Word
After the premiere of Ashes of Time: Redux in 2008, some audience members observed that the film looked different from what they had remembered. I realized that some of our audience discovered the film on pirated copies and suboptimal exhibition venues that presented the film in a different light. Still, some preferred the versions that they had watched, because memories are hard to beat.

As the saying goes: “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Since the beginning of this process, these words have reminded me to treat this as an opportunity to present these restorations as a new work from a different vantage point in my career.

Having arrived at the end of this process, these words still hold true.

I invite the audience to join me on starting afresh, as these are not the same films, and we are no longer the same audience.


Presented by QAGOMA in association with ACMI, Sydney Film Festival, NFSA and Mercury CX. Program curated by Kristy Matheson, Director of Film, ACMI. Film notes written by Kristy Matheson, Director of Film, ACMI.