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 fourth dual-layer disc in Criterion’s World of Wong Kar Wai box set presents Fallen Angels. The film has been restored in 4K, sourced from the 35mm original camera negative.
Of the seven films in the set Fallen Angels has been altered the most, Wong giving the film a completely different look. He has reframed the film from 1.85:1 to 2.39:1 (a mix of cropping the image or squishing it), enhanced the distortion of the image in a number of sequences, changed a few colour sequences to black-and-white, and added touches of colour to some of the film’s pre-existing black-and-white sequences, similar to Lars von Trier’s Europa or Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City films. I can’t speak to the edit itself (whether scenes are missing or added), but I don’t even know if that really matters since these other alterations themselves significantly change the film.
The previous disc in this set, which houses Chungking Express, features a 1996 interview with Wong and director of photography Christopher Doyle discussing the experimental look of Fallen Angels, getting into their use of a wide-angle lens to distort the image, which also led them to have to compose their shots differently. They seem rather excited about what they’ve created, and the discussion does almost suggest that they did picture this film appearing in scope, as Wong claims now, but for whatever reason they didn’t get that far. Even though I can’t say I’m a huge fan as to how this has turned out (though there are other reasons on top of the aforementioned ones, which I will get into) I will give Wong the benefit of the doubt that this is what he wanted for the film and just couldn't pull it off at the time, whether it be due to technological limitations or, hell, even financial backers or distributors saying “no.” In the age of digital he now has the tools to “fix” it, and he’s gone ahead and done so.
Unfortunately, this digital meddling may have impacted the image in other unfavorable ways, ultimately making this the worst looking presentation in the set. Forgetting the visual changes and just looking at the digital appearance of the film itself on this disc, this is the fuzziest, most lifeless and textureless (I don't think that's a word, but it's the best descriptor I can come up with) looking presentation to be found in the set by far. It’s possible that the digital modifications are to blame, or Wong actually prefers it this way and it’s all intentional, but whatever the case it’s really ugly. Film grain has almost been entirely wiped out, outside of a handful of shots—mostly black-and-white ones—leading to finer details being obliterated. Most of this looks like video, there’s barely anything film-like about it. And when there is grain, it looks muddled or just digitized and phony, like it’s a filter that has been artificially added. Black levels also come off a bit flat, which doesn’t help since this is probably the darkest looking of the seven films.
It looks digital and over processed, flat and fuzzy. Whether it’s a side effect of Wong’s digital tinkering or just a lousy transfer/restoration/encode (or what he actually wants) I can’t say, but it’s an eyesore in the end.
The film comes with an energetic and well-mixed 5.1 surround soundtrack, delivered in DTS-HD MA. There is a lot of surround activity, whether it be from the film’s music (which is incredibly dynamic) or the action within the film, and it’s all creatively mixed throughout the environment, jumping cleanly between speakers. Dialogue sticks primarily to the front, but it still comes off dynamic and clean. It’s a very immersive soundtrack in the end, still suiting the film.
Each film gets their own set of supplements, though they’re middling at best, and don’t delve all that deeply into their respective films, and Fallen Angels follows the same pattern. The set does come with a booklet, featuring an essay on Wong and his work, along with notes from Wong talking about the restorations/changes, though like the supplements overall, they’re not all that in-depth. What I would have loved for this film is more around the film’s new look, but alas there isn’t anything on the disc.
Wong does show up for a 15-minute feature, answering questions from 10 of his fellow artists, including filmmakers Sofia Coppola, Lisa Joy, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Cholé Zhao and Rian Johnson, authors André Aciman and Jonathan Lethem, and cinematographers Bradford Young and Philippe Le Sourd. The format has each participant submit their video question and then Wong quickly answers them. The questions range from the personal to the more technical, where he’s asked about where he finds his inspiration, whether there’s a book he wants to adapt (he mentions the novel Dream of the Red Chamber), the fashions in his film, what he did as a child, and so on and so forth. It also features a lengthy and decent looing high-def clip from My Blueberry Nights, which is a little irritating since there isn’t even a high-def release for the film in North America. At any rate, it’s quick and his answers aren’t as in-depth as one might hope, but I was surprised at how he answers the questions in a very straight forward and to-the-point way; nothing cryptic.
There is then a 7-minute interview with director of photography Christopher Doyle, recorded in 2002. While throwing back a beer, Doyle ends up talking about the look of the film, building relationships with the actors, and the thought process in choosing the appropriate film stocks and filters. Interestingly, all of the clips from the film are from the old version in the 1.85:1 ratio, with some of the scenes altered to black-and-white in the new version now shown in colour again. This is then followed by a section called deleted scenes, though the actual “deleted” content is minimal. Most of it is made up of interviews with Wong and Chen Man-lei, who plays Zhiwu’s (Takeshi Kaneshiro) father, with Chen being quite the joy here (he has watched Fallen Angels twice and still doesn’t understand it). The deleted material is otherwise minimal, one long 3-4-minute montage being most of it. A trailer advertising the new restoration then closes the disc.
Some academic material around the film would have been great, but alas I’m sure Wong stopped that. More information around the film’s alterations would have also been great, but I guess I'm not surprised there's nothing about that here. Weak, overall.
(Note: the "deleted scenes" on this disc are the same featurettes that appear on Kino's own Blu-ray edition for the film.)
Supplements are again middling, but the presentation for Fallen Angels—the most heavily altered of all of the films in the set—doesn’t look much better than an above-average DVD a good chunk of its running time.