That Day, on the Beach
Yang’s sensibility and perspective eventually becomes unmistakeable throughout That Day, on the Beach, but, aside from perhaps “Expectations,” this is the first work I’ve seen from him where the perspective is so heavily colored by a single character’s viewpoint, whether it be Jiali’s or someone else’s. For a director so otherwise forthright in his storytelling – though, of course, the rapid changes in character focus are a key component of his expansive and all-encompassing vision – Yang goes for a full-bore elliptical approach. Memory slips in and out of the viewer’s headspace, some “flashbacks” (although clearly the past is meant to be fully present) lasting mere moments and others lingering for seemingly close to an hour. Incredibly, all this happens while the film operates on an emotional register that manages to evoke melodrama while ostensibly remaining within the restraint and distance that Yang deployed even more skillfully in the films to come.
And what makes this structure – which folds in on itself to access the most formative moments – so vital is this feeling of transience. To say Yang’s films are fundamentally about modernity is far too general, but it manifests itself even in the moments that are meant to be past: society and the codes of conduct (in the home, in the workplace, in the city) are never far away, and they bear down on the individual and the marriage in ways both plainly visible and achingly invisible. The prospect of escape is tantalizing, but even with a triumphant final image the viewer (and Yang) is all too aware of the cost, the long, meandering, jumbled journey required to get there. And in that, seemingly all of human emotion and experience can be found.
My Blueberry Nights
Rather than, as I feared, a simple recapitulation or dilution of Wong’s trademark themes and style, My Blueberry Nights feels almost like a doubling down or an elaboration, transplanting his concerns and slightly but noticeably modifying them. This is as much a film about outsiders trapped in their own orbits as his other movies: a café owner who uses keys, pies, and videotapes as totems of memory; a cop who drinks like every day’s his last; an impulsive, confident gambler who seems to traverse the same landscapes that Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung crossed. It’s not an especially difficult task to assign certain roles – Norah Jones as Faye Wong (down to the use of their respective music), Jude Law as an exceptional mirror of Takeshi Kaneshiro – and indeed the three sections almost seem to follow a progression from Chungking Express to Fallen Angels to Happy Together. And the look and the music, the repetitions and the way images jump and flow into each other, the loneliness, the often intentional goofiness; all of these are universal, captured by Wong in a look, in a glance, in a frame.