Posts Tagged ‘wong kar-wai’

In the Mood for Love

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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In the Mood for Love
2000, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Well, this was the last film I  screened at Yale before I graduated with my M.Arch, and I suppose it was fitting that I showed the film that got me interested about the exploration between film and architecture in the first place. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who was working on a PhD on “atmosphere” at the GSD showed this film to me, and seeing it was a small revelation. First of all, the film is a profoundly beautiful film (it remains one of my favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors). Secondly, I had no idea that there was scholarship on something as seemingly disparate as cinema and architecture. In the Mood for Love is a beautiful document of love, urbanism, and cultural identity. It’s about space, atmosphere, and time; the beautiful actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are the players. For more on Wong Kar-Wai, read my post about his other movie, Chungking Express.

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When I first started the film society at Yale, it was mainly as a means for creating a debate about the relationship between architecture and media within the school. Specifically, the focus would be films, but broadly, about all of technology in general. Film is technology, and both architecture and technology share the same etymological root (tech: from Gk. tekhne-, “art, skill, craft, method, system”). The moving picture, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, contemporaneously accompanied a sequence and succession of technological changes that have fundamentally altered the world around us and architecture to no lesser degree. Le Corbusier changed the way we put buildings together at the same time, but he changed it in part because he was inspired by the technology of film. To understand these changes is to understand why our built environment is the way it is. In short, architecture is, like film, an expression of humanity.

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On this topic of cultural technologies, humanities, and digital media, there is nobody more eloquent and erudite as Mario Carpo. Having initially come across him in the first semester while writing a paper for Alan Plattus’ urbanism class, it was incredible to have him come and teach a graduate seminar in my final year. Much of what had only begun to approximate in thinking I found had already been expounded upon at length by the world’s most prominent architectural media theorist. In terms of thinking about media and architecture, Mario Carpo is, so far, the last word. His lecture at Yale in the spring of ’08 was an exciting reminder of how contentious the fields of history, historiography, philosophy, media and technology are when they come together in the study of architecture. Earlier in that same day, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Mario Carpo, and Bob Stern sat and debated the changing paradigms of architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and reminisced about their shared background as young architects in New York. They were seated next to about twenty students. In one room. Such is the power of the place of Yale and its community of individuals. I miss it dearly.

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The format of the Yale Architecture Film Society wasn’t really well thought out; it was simply a matter of cobbling together something that I thought was sufficiently time manageable—screen a movie once a week or so and argue a position about the movie and its relation to architecture in a distributable format for the Yale community. However, at the time, I was simply printing out sheets of paper and posting them around the school. Looking back, it was a laughably low-tech way of going about it. I should have created a website or blog, posted links, film clips, and the written portions as well. This blog is an attempt to redistribute that information and reanimate those discussions. All the struggling I did each week over the years with how much to write, what images to include, or different ways to advertise the screenings and communicate with those who were interested would have been elegantly solved by the Web 2.0. It would have been an exploration of a modern medium using the new forms of media that are starting to influence architecture irreversibly. This blog is a continuation of that goal.

in-the-mood-for-loveThis marks the end of the series of films I began discussing under the theme of “The Future is Asian.” The next theme I will blog about will be “American Landscapes.”

-    quang truong

Chungking Express

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Chungking Express

Chungking Express
1994, 98 minutes
directed by:  Wong Kar-wai

Hong Kong is a small region that produces a disproportionately large share of movies. For the remaining two films of the The Future is Asian series, I’ve chosen to discuss two films by one Hong Kong director, Wong Kar-wai. This is a testament to either Wong Kar-wai’s importance and relevance as a director, or to my stubbornness and arrogance in selecting films that I believe are relevant.

Chungking Express

Wong Kar-wai is one of those consummate indie film auteurs: the kind black-skinny-pants-wearing hipster film majors love to love. Chungking Express was the first movie distributed by Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures movie company, and Wong has continued to produce highly anticipated and highly debated films—his latest, My Blueberry Nights, starring Norah Jones, Jude Law, and Rachel Weisz, made its American theatrical debut in 2007 (it received tepid reviews).

Faye Wong in Chungking Express

However, it’s not hard to see why Chungking Express made such a splash when it was first released in the US in 1994. It’s fast, stylishly oblique, cooly violent, and full of alienated beautiful people, the kind that have occupied hipster films since Antonioni. Though infused with a distinctively Asian vibe, it nonetheless effuses a thoroughly international sensibility. Wong Kar-Wai layered and mixed the music to compete with (and at times drown out) the dialogue–this was a fairly radical idea, and his use of music throughout his later films seems to have been a result of the success of that experiment in this film. As the theme song (in this case, “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas–see the clip below) weaves in and out or abruptly starts and stops throughout the film, it sets up a rhythm that organizes the narrative structure and establishes a spatial atmosphere.

But a funny thing happens when after you finish watching Chungking Express, or for that matter, other Wong Kar-Wai films: afterwards, you don’t necessarily remember the plot, or what happened, at least not in the traditional sense of who did what to whom, which then precipitated certain events, and so on and so on. In other words, you don’t exactly remember the chain of causal events that normally propel stories from beginning, middle, to end. This is not to say that Wong Kar-Wai’s films are forgettable—in fact, just the opposite. You distinctly remember the neon rush of the cosmopolitan streets of Hong Kong, the worn and tired texture of the old-city walls in that cramped, dark alley where two old friends said goodbye, the tight space of the lovers’ apartment, or the rhythm of the music that weaves its way through the images. Some images, like the food stall girl (the adorable Chinese pop-star Faye Wong) absent-mindedly bopping along to “California Dreaming” by the Mamas & the Papas (see the clip above), or the woman gently leaning her head on her lover in the back of a taxi, never leave you. Indeed, you are left with something else. We could try and call this something else visual impressions, or moods, or atmosphere, but I think it may be something which is the culmination of all of those things, yet somehow more: you are left with a sense of urbanity.

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Chungking Express takes its name from a bewildering, crowded mess of stores, shops, and eateries in one building in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong–it is essentially a vertical souq populated and staffed predominantly by immigrants and foreigners. To anyone who has ever been to this building/place/phenomenon, it is in and of itself an urban idea.

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Urbanity, as a broad concept, is inseparable from a conception of time. As our understanding and perception of time has changes, so does our understanding of cities. The most important urban theorists and architects all have differentiated themselves with a specific temporal conceptualization: from Alberti and Nolli all the way through Le Corbusier, Rossi, and Koolhaas. Wong Kar-Wai presents an essential understanding and documentation of contemporary urbanity due to his subtle, sophisticated, and irreducibly contemporary ability to play with time—most predominantly through his phrasing of visual sequences, his unique use of music, and to a lesser extent, his working method and the interconnectedness of his filmic oeuvre. Wong Kar-wai’s subject is exactly the relation between two things, time and urbanity, and in this way, proves that there are no more analogous artistic endeavors than film and architecture.

-    quang truong (originally written April 2008)

L’Avventura

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

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L’Avventura
1960, 145 minutes
directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

L’Avventura is really Antonioni’s most important film. Some of his most famous images and scenes are in here, as well as some of his most shocking narrative devices—they’re not shocking like an instantaneous, loud, surprising cut in a teenage slasher-flick, but shocking more like the way a finger run slowly over the rim of fine glassware slowly sets the entire glass into reverberation. Monica Vitti, the beautiful actress who stars in all three of his trilogy films, though she plays slightly different characters in all three, is the singular constancy throughout the trilogy, imbuing the three films with the existential dissonance for which Antonioni became famous and from which this semester’s theme takes it title, “Identity & Fragility.”

The theme of identity and fragility was on display last night during the lecture, though only as a subtext. Last night, at the “Writing on Architecture” panel, there was an animated debate about the value of writing to architecture. In short, books and buildings. At one point or another, various assertions were made about the ascendancy of one over the other in terms of the capacity to affect the environment, or the way we live, or our understanding of architecture and architects, living or dead. All of the arguments were made, however, with the unstated, underlying assumption that the capacity to transcend time being the most desired result of either endeavor. If the point of architectural writing is primarily self-promotional, as Dean Stern argued on one end of the panel, or a discipline unto itself which may be a more lasting document of ideas than the buildings themselves, as Peter Eisenman argued on the other end of the panel, then it is our place in time which is the real issue; specifically, the identity of an architect or architecture in relation to his or her milieu and the history of architecture in general. Time was the giant elephant in the room. I should note that the panel was sandwiched in the middle by Kurt Forster, whose wit, verve, and eloquence rendered time null and void, sort of like being absorbed in a great movie or book or under the influence of the best sort of recreational drugs.

In L’Avventura, as it is in the films of Wong Kar-Wai or Sergei Eisenstein, or the architectures of Aldo Rossi, or last night’s panel discussion, the real subject is time. The movie moves ploddingly, sometimes almost disturbingly slow, and the camera lingers as the characters wander seemingly without purpose through the landscape. This, in essence, is the invention of Michelangelo Antonioni. It is the relationship between his framing and pacing of images through time which was so disturbingly unconventional at the time (and still is). As the movie progresses, you are thus made aware of the ideas of distance and proximity– the distance between people, the distance between a person and his/her environment, and the distance between an idea and its realization. It is why it is said that only in an Antonioni film is the architecture a protagonist. I would disagree, and say that the architecture in an Antonioni film is not a protagonist, but an antagonist—it makes you aware of the formal delineations between things and is constantly pushing and pulling on the beautiful, languid characters in ways that subjugate them and belittle them. The architecture, in more ways than one, makes the characters disappear, though we never lose our interest in the pretty things that move about the frame of the camera—they just seem pitiably trivial to the power of the place and the landscape.

originally written October 9, 2007

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Backtracking

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

This blog should have been started years ago as a repository for ideas and sketches, but for whatever many reasons, I’m just getting to it now. I recently graduated from the Yale School of Architecture, and while there, I founded and ran an Architecture and Film Society.

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The idea of doing such came from my experience at the GSD’s Career Discovery, when my instructor Philipp, an M.Des with a thesis in “Architectural Atmosphere” did the same. I still remember the first movie he screened, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love, and the case he made for the way certain directors can control and emphasize space and time in an architectural way, with urban implications.

sketchbookfromcareerdiscoAt Yale, I screened a movie every week or so, and distributed a page of film notes to accompany each one. That exercise, as much as anything else during school, was a place where I could quickly sketch down some ideas and explore some relationships, mostly between the intersection between media and architecture. In the high-pressure, high-stress, academically strenuous environment of grad school, it was a place where I could develop some thoughts outside of the proscribed curriculum.

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At the wonderful Paul Rudolph designed A&A building, now called Rudolph Hall, I simply posted the film notes in the elevators (which served as the school’s bulletin board, social condenser, and transporter all rolled into one), showed the dvds in Hastings (our large lecture hall), and called it a week. But in my third year, our school spent moved to a temporary location, a depressingly underthought-out building by Kieran Timberlake, while the A&A underwent renovations. There, it became clear that the medium for a discussion about the intersection between media and architecture was ironically underserved by the old-school method of posting up pieces of paper around the school. Instead, it should have been disseminated electronically.

So I hope you forgive me while I back-track a bit, and for my first blog posts, post my old Film Society notes from the previous three years.