Wong Kar-Wai
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Text & Layout © Ed S, 2006. Ed asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

Wong Kar-Wai

A brief biography


(Some of this biography is from the Internet Movie Database - www.imdb.com. There may be some mistakes/incorrect recollections, as well as some glaring omissions. Check out the IMDB itself for a full filmography - including scriptwriting credits and producer's credits.)

Wong Kar Wai was born in 1958 in Shanghai, China. His family moved to Hong Kong when he was 5 years old. His father's occupations included that of sailor and nightclub manager. Growing up in predominantly Cantonese Hong Kong whilst being a native Shanghainese speaker, WKW recalls spending much of his youth going to the cinema with his mother.

After graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic in Graphic Design, WKW enrolled to work with the TVB television station, becoming a production assistant on serial television dramas. (Quite exactly what he did during this period, I have no idea. I don't know which serials he worked on, but those who watched Hong Kong television and have long memories may recall that most Hong Kong serials of the time had incredibly sparse productions - i.e. props reappearing on different sets - maybe this is where WKW got all his ideas about repetition!)

In 1982, WKW made the move into the film industry. It wasn't a move which allowed him to exercise much more creative freedom than before though, as he was working with the ruthlessly commercial Cinema City. At Cinema City, a regime was imposed whereby directors had to have their daily rushes vetted by the bosses (one of whom was popular actor/comedian Eric Tsang, who would later actually star in a WKW-scripted film, Final Victory (1987)). If the daily work did not fill the quota which the bosses demanded (usually a gag quota, as Cinema City's staple was the type of wacky comedy which was then growing in popularity), then a reshoot was demanded. WKW worked in the script department, ostensibly to provide ideas and gags, moving on to full scripts. He did not quite flourish in this environment.

According to WKW, for a year he almost 'lived out of' close friend and director Ringo Lam's apartment, but failed to provide much material for Cinema City. Moving on, he worked on scripts more fully, outside of the mainstream studios. However, at the time, this was not seen as a 'cool' indie style, more a dead end for stragglers caught between the large studios. WKW recalls that many crew members were too poor to rely on movies for their income, and often had to take on other jobs (citing an unnamed director who was also a debt collector on the side). WKW has said that he hasn't actually seen every movie which he contributed to script-wise (one such movie he simply recalls as being 'shot in Thailand').

After a while, his scripts started to get noticed, particularly as he was friends with some established directors. In 1987 he scripted Final Victory for director Patrick Tam, it being the intended third film in a trilogy of scripts. With this to his name, WKW was given the director's reins, and he directed (with friend William Chang as production designer) his debut, As Tears Go By (1988), based on the first script of the Final Victory trilogy.

It was a commercial and critical success, and actors (and backers) were queuing up to work with WKW. His next movie as director was the commercially disastrous Days Of Being Wild (1990), a movie which earned WKW a reputation for being a director who would not compromise to please everyone. Despite the commercial underperformance, critics were enthralled by Hong Kong's new maverick, as well as the cinematography of a now WKW stalwart, Chris Doyle. WKW finally made moves to ensure the creative freedom which he previously lacked, by setting up his own production company: Jet Tone Studios.

WKW then went to work on adapting - in his own idiosyncratic way - a modern wu xia classic; Jin Yong's Eagle Shooting Heroes. The shoot for the resulting movie, Ashes Of Time (1994), was protracted and hugely over-budget. In fact, during the creation of that movie, WKW's production company was able to churn out a parody featuring much the same cast (which injected some much needed money). Then, during post-production of Ashes Of Time, WKW paused to work, this time personally, on another project: Chungking Express (1994).

Chungking Express put WKW on the international map, its (unusually) spontaneous pizzazz gracing film festivals around the world. A year later, WKW completed a related cousin of that film, the spectacular Fallen Angels (1995), again to critical acclaim (or at the very least critical curiosity) and a growing reputation for visual mastery, as well as emotional insight.

In the year of Hong Kong's reversion to China, WKW made Happy Together (1997) on the diametrically opposite end of the planet. Shot in Argentina, with Manuel Puig's The Buenos Aries Affair as a very loose source, the homosexual backdrop earned the film a Category III censor rating in Hong Kong - but opened even more eyes internationally. This together, with (latent) references to the political subtext indicated by the subtitle, 'A Film About Reunion' had critics fascinated. These ideas - as well as WKW's characteristic brilliance - impressed critics sufficiently for WKW to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Since then, Jet Tone weathered the Asian Financial Crisis, which hit the film industry particularly hard. WKW had wanted to work on a project provisionally called Summer In Beijing, but was refused Chinese government permission to film in Tiananman Square (they also had a problem with the film's title, again showing how the '1989 incident' was still very much a sensitive issue). Instead, WKW set to working on the story which would coalesce into In The Mood For Love (2000). What was intended as a small, single story movie, turned into a long process, interrupted by WKW being contractually obliged to start his next move, 2046 (2004).

During the creation of both these movies, WKW attempted to offset the effects of the Asian Financial Crisis by directing several adverts (for BMW, Motorola and several other companies), as well as at least one music video (for DJ Shadow). These exercises have allowed WKW, William Chang and Chris Doyle to experiment with techniques without becoming immersed in protracted artistic quandaries, whilst also keeping their profiles in public and sustaining Jet Tone's finances.

On its release, In The Mood For Love received critical acclaim, and won a special prize at Cannes (and Tony Leung won the prize for Best Actor). 2046, which was completed in 2004, continued WKW's fascination with Hong Kong in the 1960's, as well as mixing elements of science fiction and fantasy (the title, in part, was inspired by the year 2046 - which coincides with the last year of Deng Xiaoping's promised 50 year political transition period in Hong Kong).

After 2046 WKW was able to realise the goodwill which had built up about him in the West. He next movie was My Blueberry Nights (2007), starring Jude Law, Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. This was his first full-length feature entirely in English, and his first foray into Hollywood. At the time of writing he had two further projects in the pipeline: The Lady from Shanghai, a film which was set to star Nicole Kidman, and a biopic about Yip Man, a martial arts expert who was Bruce Lee's teacher.

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