Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, in his second feature, paints a portrait of an indolent, amoral, apathetic lady-killer and his poisonous milieu, ca. 1960. Wong's camera is both very close and very mobile: overfamiliar, nosy, nuzzling, liberty-taking. And although the focus tends to be extremely shallow, the impression is of great precision (e.g., only the keys in clear, not the hand that holds them). Every now and then the camera removes itself to a startling high angle or low angle, as if to break free and regain some perspective. There are brief bits of voice-over narration from varying characters: another startling way to shift the perspective. And everything is uniformly, seamlessly cinematic: the incidental detail, the ambient sound, the kinetic cutting, the musical counterpoint. All of it proclaims an assured and audacious stylist. And then suddenly it all goes to pieces: abruptness, choppiness, sensationalism, incoherence. (A different man entirely is credited as Action Director, so maybe it was out of Wong's hands.) The total experience might be confusing and frustrating, but the five-sixths experience is marvelous while it lasts. Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, Carina Lau. 1991.

3.0 stars

— Duncan Shepherd

  • Rated NR | 1 hour, 34 minutes

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