Gary BETTINSON (Lancaster University), Wong Kar-wai and the Aesthetics, English/ 20 pages, November 2010.


Since As Tears Go By (1988), Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai has elaborated and intensified an aesthetic of pictorial complexity. His oeuvre progressively demotes legible techniques (e.g. centred “singles,” uncluttered foregrounds) to favour visual strategies that roughen perception and challenge comprehension. Yet as a filmmaker pledged to narrative storytelling, Wong encounters an aesthetic problem – how to complicate perception and presentation, yet facilitate narrative understanding? If the image is to be both difficult and legible, Wong must find ways to render important story detail accessible. This paper explores the tactics employed by Wong to balance opacity and legibility, and, more intricately, to modulate the viewer’s attention across the duration of a shot or scene. It considers how late films such as My Blueberry Nights (2007) modify visual schemas that in early Wong assumed more simplified and streamlined form. It also suggests that Wong’s production habits (such as a preference for abundant takes) encourage certain sorts of obfuscating techniques.