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Best Wong Kar-Wai Movies, Ranking

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Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai is one of the greatest writers in contemporary cinema. He was born in Shanghai, China, but when he was a little boy his parents moved to Hong Kong when the Cultural Revolution began. Wong spoke neither Cantonese nor English, which made the transition difficult, but his love for cinema and the new city he was in resulted in a lifelong devotion. Wong was one of Hong Kong’s earliest mainstream directors outside of martial arts films, and it was through his work that his devotion to film as an art form – and the way he viewed the world – was too evident.

The cultural legacy of his films doesn’t just reside in the film world: actress Maggie Cheung, previously best known for her role as Ruan Lingyu in the Film Center Stage, wore beautiful qipaos that became popular in the fashion world. Wong bridged worlds in his films; he wasn’t afraid to portray gay romances, the Hong Kong underground gang, and the thriving immigrant community of southern, southeastern and westerners who live and work in the city. Combined with the unique visual style of cameraman Christopher Doyle, Wong’s films are hard to forget. Here are the best Wong Kar-Wai films.

7th Fallen angel

Woman leans against man while smoking cigarette and riding motorcycle.  You are bathed in the green light.

Jet Tone Productions

Fallen Angels is a dark film full of glaring lighting, neon lights and a unique color scheme. These components are suitable for a film that thinks about the concept of loneliness and isolation, something that you won’t find in mainstream cinema. The film is divided into divergent storylines, which are loosely connected to one another by characters running into one another. Leon Lai, a hit man, is the subject of the first story. He’s dating a woman who is mad about him, but when he finds another woman at a McDonald’s, his business relationship with the first woman goes south. The second story is about a mute man who finds another heartbroken girl who teaches him how to change his life.

6th As tears pass

Man and woman sit at the table and eat with chopsticks

In-gear movies

Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s film Mean Streets, As Tears Go By follows the life of gangster Wah (Andy Lau) who tries to make ends meet. His cousin (Maggie Cheung) is sent off the country for medical treatment by his aunt, but this leads to a series of events during which Wah falls in love with his cousin. She doesn’t know anything about his life as a gangster, but as he falls in love more and more, he thinks about leaving everything behind for her. Scorsese’s influence shines in the themes of this film; The violence is not excessive, but it shows viewers the possibilities of a life outside of crime and the fact that there may be no tomorrow.

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5 Days of the Wild

The man's side profile is flooded with green light

In-gear movies

Days of Being Wild is believed to be the first in an unofficial trilogy, the other two films being In the Mood for Love and 2046. This film was Wong’s second film to direct, and although he hoped this film would be his main break a more mainstream one -Niche, didn’t do well at the box office. Leslie Cheung plays Yuddy, a Hong Kong playboy who quickly gets through female partners. The film focuses on two of the women he’s dating, Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau, but it boils down to a character study as Yuddy tries to find out the truth about his birth mother. Wong chose a nostalgic era to make this film: Hong Kong in the 1960s, the Hong Kong of his childhood.

4th 2046

Woman stands and looks in the mirror

Jet Tone Productions

Released in 2004, 2046 took four years to complete. 2046 had a star cast with stars like Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Faye Wong. Many characters from the previous two films in the trilogy, 2046 and In the Mood for Love, are returning. Leung plays his character from In the Mood for Love while grappling with the concept of lost love while trying to write science fiction novels. The women he interacts with when he returns to the scene from the previous film are slowly exposing his character to his thoughts, wishes, regrets, and desires. The film creates a unique experience that will be remembered for days using science fiction and black and white scenes.

3 Happy together

Two men dance together in a bathroom

Jet Tone Productions

Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung are not happy together, but when they return to their tiny apartment and restaurants in Buenos Aires, they briefly forget their misfortune. Happy Together is a film that thrives on the intimacy between these two. Even if their relationship is tumultuous, there are moments when they dance together in the back or share a cab. In a foreign country, the two keep this dangerous dance of familiarity alive, which transitions into the actual colors of the films. The film alternates back and forth between color and black and white, literally becoming a visual cue of how the characters are feeling right now. When the whole movie comes together it becomes difficult to watch.

Related: Top 10 LGBTQ + Movies of 2021

2 Chungking Express

Woman looks at her own reflection while holding a bowl of pasta

Jet Tone Productions

Chungking Express is a refreshing take on love and misery. Like Fallen Angels, Chungking Express splits between two storylines. The first story is about cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who indulges in heartbreak after a breakup, until a mysterious passerby with a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) steals his heart. In the second story, a woman who works in a diner (Faye Wong) falls in love with cop 663 (Tony Leung), who also has a breakup. Playing with time and space in this film, Wong decides to speed up the footage around the characters to create that feeling of isolation and intensity. Chungking Express is a film for movie lovers; While it’s lighthearted, romantic, and comedic at times, the style nods to films that inspired Wong in his youth.

1 In the mood for love

Women lean their heads on the man's shoulders in the taxi

Jet Tone Productions

In the Mood for Love is a contemporary masterpiece. Wong was finally making films that appealed to audiences, starting with Chungking Express and Happy Together. When In the Mood for Love came out, the world was waiting. In the 1960s, the characters of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung discover that their spouses are cheating on them, and lonely Cheung and Leung spend more and more time together. The film is slow burning, full of inactivity, but that fits the overarching story. The run time is too short and too long, creating a world where you want more of it. In the Mood for Love is also the most visually rich Wong movie, making it a movie that deserves to be called art.

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About the author

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi
(25 articles published)

Writer, author and budding critic. Find me @ashleynassarine.

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