Sansho the Bailiff
A man is not a human being without mercy. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others.
That the practitioners of these words are both empowered and powerless, torn asunder by the forces of evil in this world and yet brought back together in the most elemental ways, is the great mystery and the great beauty of this film. A fable, yes, but one with a direct conduit to the heart of human emotion.
Dragon Inn (rewatch)
Among the endless amount of perfect things that Dragon Inn does, perhaps the ending is the most telling. If the ending is abrupt, it is so because the elemental perfection of the scenario and its execution is such that there simply cannot be a continuation. The heroes ride off into the sunset, but it is almost an afterthought: what matters is the completion of the task, the visceral, punctuated triumph of motions.
Though Fallen Angels certainly has a dialogue in both narrative and production with Chungking Express, it’s important to stress just how exaggerated, how forceful so much of this film feels in comparison to even the glorious excesses of its predecessor. Especially for the almost purely sensorial opening fifteen minutes, where all narrative aside from the Wongian fundamentals of longing and disaffection is cast aside, every single shot feels nearly as revelatory as Takeshi Kaneshiro running through the blur of Hong Kong. Fallen Angels doesn’t settle down so much as overheat, but Wong running on the fumes of narrative still allows for some of the most sublime image-making I’ve witnessed. A film that feels like the Most version of itself, which means that it ranks among the Most films, for good and ill.
Woman in the Dunes
During perhaps the most primal scene among a film composed almost solely in a primordial key, the visages calling for physical titillation are concealed behind a multiplicity of masks, deliberately contrasting and jarring in their almost anachronistic qualities. In the grand sweep of surveillance on the part of both tribal masks and gas masks, an entire film’s sensibility is unlocked.
Woman in the Dunes, in its sparseness and yet its overpowering sensuality, in the perfect opacity of its central metaphor and structuring landscape, aims to capture something of both the distant past and all-too-present now; in other words, all of humanity. That it does so without ever once explicitly saying so is but the tip of its achievements.