Jim Jarmusch, with his striking hairstyle and rock star persona or aura, and Wong Kar-wai, with his martial artist or gangster looks, can be considered post modern directors with high caliber works in the film industry. These post modern directors are impressionistic in their respective work and point of view. They are also able to dream or pursue a higher level of quality in their expositions of time, memory and space. For other critics, they are different and simultaneously “strange”. Jim Jarmusch and Wong Kar-wai seem tend to have different themes, tone and styles.
However, by looking at the analysis of other critics and auteurs in the films created by these post modern directors as well as the interviews on the Jarmusch and Kaw-wai, it can be noted that there are deep correspondences between them. In the press release notes for “Stranger Than Paradise”, the film that first provided him significant attention, Kim Jarmusch half-mockingly explained his film as “a semi-neorealist black-comedy in the style of an imaginary Eastern-European film director preoccupied with Ozu, and recognizable with the 1950s American television show ‘The Honeymooners”.
In a lot of ways, the statement is distinguishing of Jarmusch, conceivably the most talented and revitalizing of the post modern or American independent directors of the last two decades. The interviews also expose that he has always been captivated with combining culturally very unusual features or materials to create something new which cannot be ordinarily categorized. In addition to this, this goes beyond the boundaries between high and low and offers a new point of view at American and the familiar.
Jarmusch successfully does this by incorporating the perspective or point of view of a stranger. This is further done by keeping a sense of humor in and about his craft (Hertzberg, vii). Filmmaking for Jim Jarmusch has never had much to do with how it is traditionally imagined or visualized, either in terms of production or aesthetics. As an alternative, he has taken a road less traveled. Consequently this indeed, has made all the differences.
From the time of his first feature-length movie, “Permanent Vacation”, which he completed while still in film school, to the newly released “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”, spectators and interviewers have been inquisitive or interested about the Way, as it were, accountable for the innovative, deadpan quality which sets this film apart. Determinedly, Jarmusch articulates of how he visualizes his films “from the inside out,” how he begins with an actor in mind, how he represents from the collection of random notes that he is continuously writing down, and how he allows the story and mood of the film develop or advance from that.
In addition to this, he is always enthusiastic to acknowledge or recognize his debt to filmmakers and artists in other areas whom he has been influenced by or has borrowed from, just as he never fails to stress the significant responsibility played by the cast and crew in determining and co-creating the films he directs. Every time, he is asked to speculate about the style, themes or philosophy of his films, conversely, Jarmusch’s answers are much more reserved; “I’m the worst person to analyze (my) stuff and I hate looking back at it”, he told Rosenbaum two years later.
Likewise, in a recent conversation with Chris Campion, Jarmusch says of the sense that there is a deeper connection between “Dead Man” and “Ghost Dog” that he would rather not attempt to analyze it himself: “Better to leave that up to someone smarter than myself who can explain it to me sometime”, he says, only half in jest. He insists that he does not remember his earlier films very well, as he has a hard time watching them once he is done with them.
And furthermore, he often points out that he is not very fond of sharing his views on his films because he regards other people’s different interpretations of them to be at least valuable as his own and is afraid that his own reflections would only impose (Hertzberg, viii). In his film “Down by the Law” (1986), Jim Jarmusch refined his humorous and ironic wit by incorporating black and white photography. He also used elegant tracking shots in his film which adds to a unique laconic style. Somehow, the film has a resemblance to Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escapes” (1956) as well as to other films with themes about prison.
This is due to the fact that the story of “Down by the Law” is drawn from both the life of an ebullient Italian tourist, played by Roberto Benigni, as well as the life of two petty hooligans, played by Tom Waits and John Lurie. However, because of the post modern skills of Jarmusch, he is able to make innovations and come up with a humorous, fresh and unusually moving film. In “Mystery Train” (1989) and “Night on Earth” (1991), Jim Jarmusch was highly regarded or commended for the charm and cleverness.
Though still, there are some critics or spectators say that these two films are quite similar from his previous works. The criticisms he obtained from these two films show a correspondence to other directors such as David Lynch in his film “Twin Peaks” (1990), particularly to Wong Kar-wai in his film “Happy Together”. Wong Kar-wai and Jim Jarmusch in their respective work shows how these two directors risked repetition, as well as self-parody, in order to bring out something (in their point of view) innovative, fresh and revitalizing.
Jarmusch’s film “Dead Man” (1995) can be considered a comeback or response to these criticisms and a strong evidence of how he tried to be innovative and fresh in his perspective. Internationally, this film was acclaimed to be a work of genius. It also deviated from his usual mannered style or hip irony which can be observed in his other films, such as in “Night on Earth”. Jim Jarmusch successfully uses lyrical depiction of death presented in a bold manner and rendered harsh and brutal.
On the other hand, nearly a decade later after his film “Fallen Angels” was shown in the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival, Wong Kar-Wai’s signature visual pyrotechnics don’t wield quite as much power over spectators as they once did, but this is only to be expected. The best news is that Wong Kar-Wai has matured as a filmmaker, and where sheer visual and aural audacity was once enough to thrill a viewer, these ephemeral techniques have in more recent films like “Happy Together” and “In the Mood for Love”, been supplemented by a powerful artistic vision and a new depth of feeling (Tambling, 1)
In May 1997, just before Hong Kong passed from British colonial rule to the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong director Wong Kai-wai released the film “Happy Together:. Wong Kar-wai was born in Shanghai in 1958 but he was brought up in Hongkong and began film-making (if a beginning can be located at this point without being arbitrary about his previous work on films) with “As Tears Go By” (1988). This was a fast-paced gangland movie set in Kowloon which is frequently compared in plot with Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (1973).
It portrayed a gangster (played by Andy Lau), caught between the demands of his partner, Fly (played by Jacky Cheung), and his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung). As such, it can be seen as remaking a Hollywood formula, where the focus is on a male character proving his masculinity (Tambling, 1). Often compared with the young Jean-Luc Godard, Wong Kar-wai is celebrated as one of he leading auteurs of new wave Asian cinema. “Wong may be said to have brought the Hong Kong new wave into the 90s”, wrote Stephen Teo, “by combining post-modern themes with new wave stylistics” (2008).
In “Chungking Express” (1994), California Dreamin by the Mamas and Papas functions not just as a replacement for dialogue but as the core message of the film. “In Chungking Express,” writes Larry Gross, Calfornia Dreamin is played some nine or ten times almost in its entirety. But only towards the end do you grasp that dancing casually to that song and letting its lyric play across your mind is almost literally what the movie is about. His world is very much the world with a soundtrack, where objects, perishable but still emotionally resonant, flit in and out of our hands and minds (Lannin and Caley, 173).
In Stephen Teo’s analysis on Wong Kar-wai, it can be noted that his work is magisterial and is highly persuading in terms of the proofs and supports for his arguments towards Wong Kar-wai’s work. There is also a remarkable scope and depth in his analysis where comprehensive surveys of Chinese commentary are provided. Stephen Teo, being a genre analyst, particularly on Hong Kong cinema, carefully shows a thorough study of the works of Wong Kar-wai.
Aside from Stephen Teo, though this may scandalize some, other spectators admit immediately that they don’t care for most Hong Kong cinema, especially that of the martial arts which sometimes seems to be most of it. Spectators however, acknowledge its worldwide success and appreciate its unbounded energy. Others understand the arguments made by David Bordwell and others for the wonderful balletic kinesthesia and the fecund and often extremely clever recycling of generic motifs from pop culture that can be found in Hong Kong cinema.
Spectators and critics respect the tremendous influence that Hong Kong genre films have had on Wong’s filmmaking. Some believes that his greatest triumphs have come when he has transcended generic conventions (Brunette, xviii). In the absence of an outer voice, the song articulates the obsession with the time common to all characters in a Wong Kar-wai film. A telling scene in “Fallen Angels” shows one of the main characters shooting video of his father. They have little verbal communication despite living in the same small hotel room (the son is mute and the father rarely talks since the death of his wife).
The son’s persistence with his video camera becomes so unbearable that his father shuts him out of their room. Later, he is filmed asleep. In private moments, he watches these videos with pleasure and after his death, his son watches one sequence over and over, relishing the pleasure of a rare smile from his father. The task of electronic media in memory, when one-to-one communication is complicated or hard, is a theme that persists or happen again throughout Wong Kar-wai’s films.
When Kar-wai’s characters are mute, speechless, or emotionally withdrawn, songs animate their silence. “Fallen Angels” (1995) starts with a long sequence in which voices are heard only as peripheral chatter or voiceover. Preceding the main titles is a scene shot in black and white (similar to Jarmusch’s use of black and white photography). The hit man, Wong Chi-Ming, which is played by Leon Lai, and his agent, played by Michele Reis, are discussing their professional and personal relationship.
Their particular conversation, can be classified as neorotic, internalized, and literally colorless fragment that is swept aside by a tour de force of camerawork, set design, sound and conceptualization, sustained without dialogue or exposition for nearly ten minutes (Lannin and Caley, 173). The difference in style, theme and tone subsequently results to a similarity in the determination of presenting new and deviant works from their previous masterpieces in the film industry makes Jim Jarmusch and Wong Kar-wai stand out to be post modern directors acclaimed by critics and spectators worldwide.
Courtney from Study Moose
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