Exploring the Soundtracks of Wong Kar Wai's Films

Exploring the Soundtracks of Wong Kar Wai's Films

by remi mourany

_Wong Kar Wai is one of the filmmakers (alongside Lynch, Tarantino, or Almodovar) whose soundtracks I enjoy listening to. They craft superb compilations that delightfully blend genres: Astor Piazzolla's tango, Dennis Brown's reggae, Faye Wong's cantopop, Nat King Cole's jazz, Zappa's rock, Angela Gherorghiu's opera... And despite this variety, each soundtrack has its own color or even a deep coherence.

But it's undoubtedly as soundtracks that these albums hold interest, as their strength lies in their incorporation into the film, altering the way we perceive these songs.

The sheer sensuality of Shigeru Umebayashi's composition in "In the Mood for Love" is intricately intertwined with the magnetic chemistry of the Tony Leung-Maggie Cheung duo. It's as if their unspoken desires find voice through the haunting melody, enhancing the film's poignant exploration of forbidden love and longing.

Astor Piazzolla's tangos in "Happy Together" take on a transformative role, transcending mere music to become a powerful narrative device. Here, the tango becomes a metaphor for the complexities of love, echoing the struggles and passion of the characters. It serves as a poignant reminder of their longing for connection amidst the backdrop of displacement and yearning. Notably, the tango-kiss scene between Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung stands as a mesmerizing testament to Wong Kar Wai's ability to evoke raw emotions through music and visuals.

Wong Kar Wai's mastery shines brightest when he transforms seemingly ordinary pop songs into emotional powerhouses. Through his adept use of music, he elevates these tunes beyond their banal origins, infusing them with profound depth and resonance, thus enriching the cinematic experience for the audience.

In "Chungking Express," the iconic "California Dreaming" by The Mamas and The Papas becomes inseparable from the character embodied by Faye Wong. It serves as a dual portrayal, highlighting both her carefree and whimsical nature, as well as her underlying sense of solitude and longing for elsewhere.

As the catchy melody reverberates through the bustling streets of Hong Kong, it mirrors Faye Wong's vivacious demeanor and free-spirited energy, adding a playful and light-hearted dimension to her character. Yet, beneath the surface, the wistful lyrics and melancholic undertones of the song resonate with her deeper emotions, echoing her yearning for escape and a life beyond the confines of her daily routine.

In this way, "California Dreaming" not only underscores the contrasts within Faye Wong's character but also serves as a poignant reflection of the transient nature of life and the universal longing for something more. It's a testament to Wong Kar Wai's adeptness at using music to evoke complex emotions and enhance the narrative depth of his films.

>>Mamas and The Papas - California Dreaming

In "Happy Together," the titular song by The Turtles, sung by Danny Chung, creates a striking contrast. The somewhat kitschy song, with its cheerful melancholy, serves as a counterpoint to a scene depicting Tony Leung's character, alone in a taxi, lost in his own thoughts. The juxtaposition of the two elements is truly extraordinary.

As the upbeat melody plays in the background, it creates a sense of ironic juxtaposition with the character's solitude and introspection. The song's nostalgic lyrics and upbeat rhythm seem to underscore the bittersweet nature of the moment, highlighting the character's inner turmoil and yearning for connection amidst the chaos of the world around him.

>>Danny Chung - Happy Together

Wong's unconventional approach to soundtracks, evident since his 1990 film "Days of Being Wild," adds depth to his multi-layered character studies set in 1960s Hong Kong. Through fragmented narratives, Wong explores themes of love and loneliness, relying on music to anchor viewers amidst his elliptical storytelling. Latin music, like Xavier Cugat's "Perfidia" and Los Indios Tabajaras' "Always In My Heart," adds a unique tonality, magnifying the characters' unspoken emotions and serving as a contrasting backdrop to their visual journeys.

"In the Mood for Love," a visually stunning masterpiece, follows the story of two neighbors, Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen, who discover their spouses' affair. Despite forming a close bond, they never act on their feelings. Its loose sequel, "2046," sees Chow haunted by his past love for Su Li-zhen.

Wong transforms music into a non-verbal dialogue in both films, intensifying emotional resonance and connecting characters emotionally. Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme” in "In the Mood for Love" is pivotal, its haunting strings reflecting the characters' eternal search for each other amid separation.

With every note, the song elicits a profound longing, as if the music itself pines for something unattainable. Its repetitive melody echoes the characters' routines and missed opportunities, enriching the film with layers of emotional complexity and serving as a poignant representation of unrequited love.

Nat King Cole's music, prominently featured throughout the film, intensifies the nostalgic ambiance, underscoring the enduring and universal themes of love and yearning. His melodies serve as a backdrop, unveiling the characters' innermost emotions and articulating their unspoken sentiments as they navigate the intricate webs of their relationships.

In "2046," Wong Kar Wai uses a variety of music genres, including classic tracks like Xavier Cugat's “Perfidia” and Nat King Cole's songs, to convey the characters' inner turmoil.

The diverse music reflects themes of impermanence, love, and loss, blending classical and electronic elements seamlessly. Shigeru Umebayashi’s compositions provide a steady emotional anchor throughout the film, guiding viewers through the characters' emotional journey. //

Here's an engaging Spotify playlist you should definitely check out >> HERE