1. “In the Mood for Love”, Wong Kar-Wai (2000)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love aka 花樣年華

dir. Wong Kar-wai scr. Wong Kar-wai cin. Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping-bin with Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung

In 100 words: For me, this movie defined cinema: as an artform, it’s the perfect blending of rich colors, graceful camerawork, rhythmic editing, incredible framing and angles with sensual musical choices. As an experience, we watch the central romance blossom and evoke guilt, reluctance, and acceptance, while Cheung and Leung perfectly capture the sensation of ardor and devastation with their electric chemistry and full-bodied performances. And as an auteur statement, this film best captured Wong’s inimitable style and magnified its strengths. If good movies transcend screens, set your synapses on fire, and create a transporting experience, then behold, the greatest movie ever.

Other Movies for Context: Wong is so influential. I can think of Moonlight (2016), which takes a lot of its cues from the colors and rhythms of this movie. Additionally, the entirety of Wong Kar-wai’s filmography is sublime and varied and so stylish and uniquely Wong’s. My favorite, apart from this is Happy Together (1997), which finds Wong and Doyle experimenting with colors and saturation, while putting together one of the most exhilarating gay romance movies ever, featuring my favorite Chinese male movie stars: Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung. Chungking Express  (1994) gave us iconic Faye Wong and Bridget Lin and Takeshi Kaneshiro and really became the other peak of Wong’s stylistic expression. 2046 (2004) proved too diffuse and kinda rushed, but still has some gorgeous compositions and interesting storyline, while The Grandmaster (2011) gives Wong an excuse to create wuxia movie with his style. Ashes of Time (1994) was a mess that preceded The Grandmaster, while Days of Being Wild is memorable for its sensual images and sweaty vibe (1990). Fallen Angels (1995) and As Tears Go By (1988) are interesting discoveries, even if they are minor Wong. My Blueberry Nights (2007) is baffling, but worth seeking for Wong’s English-language debut.

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79. “A City of Sadness”, Hou Hsiao-hsien (1989)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

A City of Sadness

A City of Sadness aka 悲情城市 aka bēiqíng chéngshì

dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien (1989) scr. Chu T’ien-wen and Wu Nien-jen cin. Chen Huai-en with Tony Leung, Sung Young Chen, Jack Kao, Li Tian-lu

In 100 words: Within a career that pushed the limits of patient, absorbing filmmaking, Sadness stands as Hou’s most coherent, most perfectly constructed, and most moving film. The film dwells on its silences, often punctuated by violence that ends as quietly as it began while its dusty palette evokes a broken world that lives up to the title. Hou’s careful geometric frames, and slow camera pans refuse to invade the characters’ spaces, which then lets the audience observe each shot like filmed theater. And the film’s story builds so quietly, that once we reach the end, we feel unexpectedly yet powerfully knocked out.

Other Movies for Context: God knows how much I love Hou Hsiao-hsien, even when his filmography feels uneven to me. There’s so much to glean from his patient long takes and unfussy mise en scene. A Time to Live and a Time to Die (1985) was a very good pre-Brighter Summer Day Taiwanese youth movie that lacked some of Hou’s trademark long takes. Dust in the Wind (1986) feels like the start of the Hou we know, with his Mark Lee Ping-bin partnership, but it felt less absorbing and more dull. The Puppetmaster (1993) feels like the nadir of Hou’s work, while Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) is the other peak of his career. Millennium Mambo (2001) is my personal favorite from his work, while Three Times (2005) has the most magnificent 30 minutes of Hou’s career. I had little patience for The Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), but I had a bit more for The Assassin (2015).