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.
Skipping over Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Ashes of Time (which I suspect was intentional on the filmmaker’s part), the third dual-layer disc in Criterion’s box set World of Wong Kar Wai presents Wong’s fourth film, Chungking Express, in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (the same as Criterion's previous release) with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. Like the other films in the set the presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Criterion released the film on Blu-ray in 2008, making use of a then-new high-definition restoration. I was pleased with it then (it was one of Criterion's first titles on the format) but it shows its dated aspects now, particularly in rendering the film’s grain. Grain looks finer and is rendered quite a bit cleaner here, and this leads to a more photographic, less digital look with better detail, even when the photography can go hazier. Restoration work has also further cleaned up things, removing some of the minor marks that remained.
Chungking Express has had its own set of alterations, like the rest of the films in the set, though I’d say they’re some of the milder ones in comparison. The opening and end credits have been redone and while they are a bit odd and stick out because they’ve clearly been computer generated, I can live with it in comparison to the alterations in a couple of the other films here. A sound effect has also been added to the opening title (which I had to have pointed out to me admittedly) and, like just about every other film in the set, the colours have been altered with a green tint. On this latter point I think the alteration is ultimately rather minor since the film ends up keeping a similar monochromatic look to what it has always had, with the occasional splash of bright colour. That tint does end up enhancing some of the green and blue filters, and it almost looks like greens and blues within some scenes have been targeted specifically with enhancements, making them a bit bolder. Outside of some reds that have been dulled a little (and this appears to have been selectively done as well) the colours have not been altered too much, whites still looking fairly white, skin tones still looking natural (not green as in Days of Being Wild) and there are the same bright pops of violet and orange and more. Looking at the old Criterion edition the image does end up having more of a washed look, and the new presentation delivers a vibrancy that suits the energy of the film.
I still have a couple of films to get through in the set, but so far this is the one I’m most pleased with. It does end up looking better than the previous Criterion disc and the overall look of the film hasn’t changed in a significant way like a few other titles (but of course that opinion is highly subjective).
Criterion includes a 5.1 surround soundtrack for the film, delivering it in DTS-HD MA. It’s an incredibly energetic and aggressive mix. There are many whirling sequences through crowds where the action moves around the viewer, with distinct effects targeted to the individual speakers. Movement and panning between the speakers is clean and natural, and the overall quality is crystal clear. A couple of rainy sequences sound especially great, the rain drops hitting sharply against the ground and objects around, placing the viewer square in the middle of it. The songs California Dreamin’ and the cover of Dreams are also strong stand outs. It’s a terrific mix that really makes great use of the sound system.
Criterion’s previous Blu-ray wasn’t a jam packed edition, its only real substantial feature being an audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns. Inexplicably, that track ends up getting dropped from this edition. The disc does carry over a 12-minute segment from a 1996 episode of Moving Pictures, featuring Wong and director of photography Christopher Doyle talking about the film, from its music to its photography and everything in between. They also talk about their other work together, including what would have been the yet-to-be-released-in-the-UK Fallen Angels, covering the unique look they incorporated for their new film thanks to the use of a wide angle lens (I’ll get into that more when going over Fallen Angels). They also talk about the green look in their films. The feature has been altered, though, the aspect ratio of it being modified. Sadly, I think this was done as an attempt to present clips from Fallen Angels in the new scope ratio without any question. This, mixed with their discussion about shooting for a wider frame, did lead me to believe they had intended to release the film in the 2.39:1 ratio (which to be fair, may have been the case at one point).
New to this edition (though it appeared on UK editions for the film) is a 10-minute program from 2002 featuring Doyle revisiting the Hong Kong locations used in the film, from one that served as the backdrop for a deleted subplot, to the actual diner/restaurant location, and then to the apartment of Leung’s character, which was actually Doyle’s apartment at the time (similar to what he does in the Moving Pictures interview, Doyle explains why one should never let a film crew shoot in their home). This is then followed by a presentation of deleted scenes, which are accompanied by interviews with Wong. The first revolves around an alternate storyline with Lin’s character, who, in this alternate storyline, is actually a former star in hiding (why she wears the wig), while the second is more along the lines of a montage of deleted footage around Faye Wong’s character (and Leung as well). The third set of material appears to be a collection of outtakes with some behind-the-scenes footage. This whole section looks to have been made for a previous DVD release, though I’m unsure which one.
Closing the disc off is the film’s trailer for the new restoration. The original trailer found on the previous Blu-ray is nowhere to be found.
And that’s it. It’s a very underwhelming set of features in the end, though I appreciated the deleted scenes. I suspect Wong wasn’t too keen on academic material for this set, and that's probably why the Rayns commentary was excised. It’s a shame as it offered a good analytical look at the film and Wong’s work.
The supplements are even more sparse thanks to Tony Rayns’ commentary being excluded from this edition, but I think this presentation looks sharper and cleaner over Criterion’s previous presentation.