''Chungking Express'' and ''Fallen Angels'' are among the films in the celebrated director's box set

By Timothy Gunatilaka
October 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Wong Kar-Wai is a blues master — no matter how blissful the moment, love subsides and its loss breaks everyone involved. Yet this bleak view has produced an oeuvre of hushed beauty and technical brilliance. The highly stylized, personal use of recurring music and images, sweeping camera movements, pensive voice-overs, and the sumptuous colors of longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle’s photography suggest an overpowering pretentiousness. But such a dismissal ignores the underlying humanity: So earnest are the struggles of Wong’s broken-hearts club that it’s easy to forget we’re dealing with society’s refuse — Mob thugs, drug traffickers, unwanted souls. With the exception of the hard-to-obtain Ashes of Time, Kino has released a generous collection of Wong’s films (all subtitled) preceding the celebrated In the Mood for Love. The first, As Tears Go By, finds a director discovering his style; but without Doyle’s eye, the lush visuals can’t overcome the overacting in this violent cousin-loving gangster melodrama. The verdant luster of raindrenched streets in Days of Being Wild heralds the first Doyle partnership, as a ragtag bunch of soulful drifters temper their want for intimacy with more casual relations. In the later antiromance Happy Together, the cruelty of passion besets the relationship of gay expats in Buenos Aires. Chungking Express and Fallen Angels are companion masterpieces, since Angels‘ account of an assassin pining for his contractor originated as the third chapter in Express‘ episodic structure. Offering unsolicited housekeeping to an oblivious crush, Faye Wang is radiant in Express, a cult favorite about two post-relationship men who now can relate only to limp dishrags and expired cans of pineapple.

EXTRAS Among the slim pickings are a doc about troubles on the set of Happy and Quentin Tarantino gushing about his own crush on Express‘ Wang.

Tears: B-

Days: B+

Happy: B+

Express: A

Angels: A