Now that I’m back here in St. Louis, it feels like all this time going forward is just a big waiting period until I can take another trip just like this one.
The title of this article is slightly misleading, as Mark Lee Ping-bin would not be appearing at any of the following screenings. Despite this, I was still very excited, as I haven’t seen Let the Wind Carry Me or Vertical Ray of the Sun before. Also, I had never seen In the Mood for Love projected from a film print. I just love that film and have for a very long time so I was quite excited to see it in a new way.
Let the Wind Carry Me is directed by Chiang Hsiu-Chiung and Kwan Pun-Leung and was released in 2010. The two were inspired to make a documentary on Lee, so they follow him on film sets around the world for three years. He has worked with the very best of Asian directors—though he has worked with directors around the world. Many of these directors weigh in on Lee’s work including Wong Kar Wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tran Anh Hung, Hirokazu Kore-eda, etc. One of my favorite moments in the documentary was when Wong Kar Wai compares the styles of Lee to Christopher Doyle. He says, “If Chris Doyle is a sailor, then Lee is a solider.” I was so happy to be familiar with most everyone featured in the documentary. It’s an easy recommendation to anyone who’s studied Lee and wants to learn more about him. I’ll definitely be buying it myself when I get the chance.
Immediately following Let the Wind Carry Me, I made my way to Vertical Ray of the Sun, which is another I had not seen. The film is directed by Tran Anh Hung who is Vietnamese, but it might be more accurate to say he’s a French director. He moved there when he was 12. At the same time, he’s considered the biggest figure in the current wave of Vietnamese films. Tran Anh Hung is inspired by Bergman, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, and Ozu, as I understand him. (This would only be the second film I’ve seen by him. Norwegian Wood is the first one I saw.) He says things like “art is the truth wearing a mask” and explains that his films “challenge the audience’s feeling, making them enjoy the films not with the critical reasoning but the body language.” Vertical Ray of the Sun is a well-received film of his and Lee’s, though the most accomplished film of his is The Scent of Green Papaya. That one won Camera d’Or in 1993, and a bunch of other awards. But let’s turn our attention back to Vertical Rays of the Sun.
Really, all you need to know about the plot is that it’s about three sisters and their relationships with men. I already knew that Tran Anh Hung had good taste in music, as he got Johnny Greenwood to work on Norwegian Wood with him. Vertical Ray of the Sun supports this claim as I found the musical moments to be the very best part. The film features songs from The Velvet Underground, Arab Strap, and Lou Reed all too much success. Outside of those scenes and a few breathtaking moments on Lee’s part, I didn’t find myself that engaged with the feature. It’s not at all a bad film but just not for me. Despite how lukewarm I am to the production, I still found myself liking some scenes so much that I’m curious about the rest of Tran Anh Hung’s work.
My last day in New York City was bittersweet. I was sad to be leaving, but boy was I excited to see In the Mood for Love. This is probably Wong Kar Wai’s most accomplished film, though my favorite is Chungking Express. In the Mood for Love is my second favorite, and both are two movies I could watch over and over again for the rest of my life. Every frame of this particular film is a knockout. If you’re the type to be reading an article like this, you’ve probably already seen the film.
In case you haven’t, know that it’s a story about two neighbors whose partners are having an affair. They discover it together while their respective partners are “away on business”. The film is much about them dealing with this discovery, but also a blooming attraction between the two of them. It stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chen. This is the only film I saw that isn’t shot entirely by Lee. It’s also shot by Wong Kar Wai’s “sailor” cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. My understanding is that it’s mostly Doyle’s work here, but you can definitely feel the presence of Lee in many of the frames. The ending sequence is entirely shot by Lee, which will be very obvious to a trained eye—especially if you’ve seen Dust in the Wind. If you’re looking for a good double feature look no further—those two make a very effective combination. I discovered the endings of both films to mirror each other in a way that I had never noticed before.
This screening of In the Mood for Love was packed! There was a crowd of people in a standby line hoping that some of the will-call ticket holders wouldn’t show up. I have never seen this film in a theater before, let alone from a film print, and it was odd to hear how often people were laughing. I consider the film to be a very sad picture and some stuff is slightly amusing, but I don’t laugh out loud when I watch it. Of course there’s no wrong way to react to a film, but that really surprised me to hear people laughing at scenes I find to be rather sad. Still, I really enjoyed sharing this film with a sold out crowd.
I was sitting in the second row for this one and not far away from me was a rather loud young man. At the end credits (which are also pretty—really there isn’t a frame that falls short of honoring the overall beauty the film strives for), he started talking very loudly to his friend. Someone sushed him, and he said back something snarky along the lines of “Oh, I’m sorry…BUT IT’S NOT LIKE YOU CAN FUCKING READ CHINESE CREDITS.” Now, I’m a very well mannered person most of the time. I’m more patient than I should be usually, but on rare occasions I lose my cool. This is one such time.
As we all got up to leave I turn to my friend and say rather loudly, “I can’t believe someone would be so rude during a screening like this: at MoMA, sold out crowd, and being projected from a film print. This is really fucking special. I’d like to think that someone would only act so childish because they knew they were in the wrong. I mean isn’t it obvious that the score is still playing so you ought to respect that? And lots of people in this crowd can read Chinese…like you for example. There are plenty of Chinese people in the crowd! Even if they weren’t though, it doesn’t matter. It’s about respect.” I turned around and glared right at that asshole. I was just so deeply offended by how rude he was that it brought something maybe just as rude out of me. I guess I’m inviting you all to think I’m also a jerk, but I couldn’t let something like that slide. Despite that last sour note, the entire experience was such a joy. Now that I’m back here in St. Louis, it feels like all this time going forward is just a big waiting period until I can take another trip just like this one. Oh, I hope that day hurries up and gets here! | Cait Lore