World of Wong Kar Wai
With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema. Joined by such key collaborators as cinematographer Christopher Doyle; editor and production and costume designer William Chang Suk Ping; and actors Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Wong (or WKW, as he is often known) has written and directed films that have enraptured audiences and critics worldwide and inspired countless other filmmakers with their poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory. Whether they’re tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, the seven films collected here are an invitation into the unique and wistful world of a deeply influential artist.
The seventh and final dual-layer disc in Criterion’s box set World of Wong Kar Wai presents the filmmaker’s 2046 in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Similar to the other films in the set it has received a new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
I haven’t seen the film since it was released on DVD way back in the day, so I only have faint memories of what it looked like. My recollection is that it had a look similar to In the Mood for Love, at least in colour scheme, and that still holds true here for the new restoration in that it, like the new restoration for In the Mood for Love, features a green filter/enhancement. As with the previous film the filter impacts skin tones, whites, and everything else, even dulling out some of those reds. The effect can vary from scene to scene, and then there are black-and-white shots that don’t carry the tint as far as I could see. The futuristic sequences also feature a far different look compared to the bulk of the film, pushing blues and reds more, which ends up countering that green filter to a degree.
To be honest I didn’t find the filter all that distracting this time around since it at least has a more natural look, as though it was inherent to the photography, unlike the green boost that Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love received. What did distract me in the end was how digital the image ends up looking, which has little to nothing to do with the filter. What “grain” there is ends up being looking mushy and blocky much of the time, and macroblocking is noticeable around some of the more intense reds in the film’s futuristic sequences, with banding present in the shadows.
I think some of this has to do with some excessive filtering, which ultimately also softens the image. Fine object detail rarely leaps out and there is a little bit of a haze around everything. Black levels are also a little washed and shadow detail is pretty weak, flattening the image quite a bit. The black-and-white scenes suffer worst because of that, along with a mushy grayscale. It’s possible some of this is born out of the original photography, but there are issues, either with the encode or the original restoration, that are leading to this more digitized look. It was to the point where I had to go double-check what technical details I could find around the film to confirm, for me, that this was actually shot on film, and by all accounts it was shot on 35mm. I don’t have any doubt this looks better than the DVD (which I can’t directly compare now), but this could look so much better. Damage isn’t a concern, though, so there is that.
(While I usually shrink screen grabs for most titles, I have decided to include full-resolution ones here.)
The film receives a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. Despite some of the sci-fi and fantasy elements to be found in the film the soundtrack still remains fairly lowkey. The music fills out the environment, rain sounds pretty good, and there are some wonderful background effects in some of the exterior sequences or scenes where crowds are present. It’s all quite effective and sounds crystal clear with terrific range, it just comes down to some of the other films in the set feature more innovative and immersive mixes.
This title ends up getting one of the more stacked set of supplements in the set, though not by a whole lot. Most of it isn’t terribly good, either. The biggest and best inclusion here (and in the set as a whole) is the full 56-minute cut of Wong’s 2004 short film The Hand, originally part of the omnibus film Eros. The film’s story—which focuses around a tailor (Chang Chen) and his client, a high-end prostitute (Gong Li)—feels to take place in the same world as Wong’s Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and 2046. Though it doesn’t feature any of the cross-over characters from those films, it takes place in the 60’s and is thick with a similar sense of longing that is found in those other titles while it charts the relationship between the two. That relationship, divided initially by class, starts off with Li’s character inspiring her tailor with her hand, which she promises will help him tailor her clothes. From there the film follows what you could call their respective career trajectories, and the link they seem to share through it all.
The film was the stand-out of the omnibus film (though I did find Steven Soderbergh’s contribution fun if nothing else) in that it perfectly captured the subject matter promised by the project that the others in it couldn’t deliver, all without graphic sex or nudity thanks to Wong’s deft and quiet touch. There are a couple of moments that may border graphic, but the most overtly sexual moment in the film comes during a scene where Chen’s tailor is ironing the dress he just finished for his client, whose body, as we learn, he has become quite familiar with. It’s one of the more intense and passionate scenes I think Wong has ever created. On top of that, during their scenes together, there’s an incredible amount of chemistry between the two leads despite them spending most of the film not touching each other (except when it counts).
It's probably one of Wong’s best works, though it’s sadly treated simply as a supplement in this set. It’s the only one of his works in the set (not counting the alternate version of Days of Being Wild) to not have received an all-new restoration. Presented in the ratio of 1.78:1, it comes from an obviously dated master. It is high-def, but it’s laced with noise and artifacts, and little bits of dirt; it could really use an update. Thankfully, at the very least, the film does come with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack, and not a Dolby Digital track. I’m glad it’s here (and in its full runtime) but it really would have been wonderful to get a new restoration for it.
The rest of the material is general studio stuff. There is a 39-minute making-of featuring interviews with Wong kar-wai, actors Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, and others in the cast and crew. It goes over the inception of the film (with Wong stating it’s not a sequel to In the Mood for Love but rather an “echo”) and then breaks down the four key segments in the film, with an added focus on the special effects for the futuristic sequences. It’s not a bad watch but feels far more generic when compared to the making-ofs for In the Mood for Love and Happy Together, both of which got more into the creative process behind their respective films and showed alternate storylines. Interestingly, a lot of the clips from the film found in the documentary come from the new restoration.
Following that is some short segments, including a 3-minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage around Ziyi Zhang (who of course was a breakout star at the time) followed by a 7-minute “music video” put together by Wong, featuring footage from the film cut around a recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s “Casta Diva.” There is then a couple of deleted scenes, one showing how Zhang's character spent her Christmas Eve, and the other focusing around Gong Li’s character showing up again after her last encounter with Leung’s. They run over 7-minutes altogether.
The film’s original trailer also shows up here, along with a World of Wong Kar Wai trailer created for the Janus Films tour of the new restorations. A bit more interesting, though, is a promo reel created in 2003 for the film, which features some footage not in the film. Footage that actually does appear in the finished film looks to come from the new restoration.
And that’s it. There is more material to be found on other DVD editions from around the world (including Sony's own U.S. DVD), but none of that makes it here. The bulk of it is underwhelming, but the inclusion of The Hand makes it easier to forgive.
A weak presentation and a weak set of supplements make this one of the more disappointing discs in the set, and it's only saved by the fact Wong’s short film The Hand has been included on the disc.