Wong Kar-wai was born in Shanghai
in 1958. He moved to Hong Kong
with his family in 1963, during a period when it is estimated that over 100,000 people migrated from the mainland to Hong Kong as a result of famines associated with Mao Tse-tung's Great Leap Forward
policies. Coming from the Mainland and speaking only Shanghainese, he had a difficult period of adjustment to Cantonese speaking Hong Kong, spending hours in movie theatres with his mother. He graduated in Graphic Design from Hong Kong Polytechnic in 1980, where he developed a passsion for photography, especially for artists such as Robert Frank
, Henri Carter-Bresson
and Richard Avedon
Upon graduating, he enrolled in a training programme for t.v. drama production run by Hong Kong Television Broadcast Ltd. Starting work as a production assistant on a variety of television drama series, he began working as a scriptwriter for television and then later for film. Wong left HKTBL in 1982, and between then and 1987 he is credited with writing ten feature scripts, ranging in genre from romantic comedy to action drama, however he claims that he was involved in writing over sixty screenplays before he became a director.
Wong directed his first feature, As Tears Go By, in 1988, the last part of a planned gangster trilogy: Patrick Tam's Final Victory, written by Wong Kar-wai and which he considers to be his best script, was the first part of the trilogy; the second part was never made. The film was nominated in ten categories at the Hong Kong Film Awards and was screened at the Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989. Days of Being Wild (1990), his second feature, marked Wong out as a talent to watch, winning five Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Leslie Cheung). This film was originally intended as the first part of a large diptych, which infamously has never been finished.
Two years later, Wong embarked on his third, and probably most ambitious project, the martial arts/western Ashes of Time. Shot in remote regions of China, the film took two years to complete. It won the award for Best Cinematography at the 1994 Venice Film Festival. During a two-month break in the post-production for Ashes of Time, Wong shot Chungking Express, his most internationally successful film until 2000. Some of the films principal locations in Hong Kong have become popular tourist attractions for fans of the film, and prompted the opening of a shop in Hong Kong devoted to memorabilia from Wong's films! Fallen Angels (1995) is based on two episodes that were originally supposed to feature in Chungking Express, and features many of the same locations and motifs.
Happy Together, Wong's sixth feature, was initially conceived as a three-hour film, but was cut to just one and a half hours for its premiere at Cannes in 1997. The film was shot almost entirely on location in Argentina.
In The Mood For Love (2000), is Wong's most recent and most commercially successful film to date. It won the prize for Best Director and Best Cinematographer in the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. His latest project, entitled 2046 began shooting early in 2000. The latest reports are that it is a loosely-based follow-up to In The Mood For Love, taking up with one of the main characters (played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai) in 2046, 50 years after the handover of Hong Kong to China. The film was initially scheduled for completion and screening at Cannes 2002. Numerous problems have dogged the production, however, including refusals from the Chinese government to allow shooting on location, major changes in cast and script. The film is currently shooting in South Korea, and is now tentatively scheduled for screening at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
Wong has also recently shot a commercial for BMW entitled The Follow (2001), as part of a series of commercials commissioned by BMW using famous directors. He has also shot the video for DJ Shadow's single Six Days (2002).
Wong Kar-wai has been characterized as part of the "Second Wave" of Hong Kong filmmakers, alongside Stanley Kwan, Clara Law, Mabel Cheung, Eddie Fong, Jacob Cheung, and Ching Siu-tung, although as some film writers remark, they are, in truth, more a delayed part of the first new wave. Many of them started out writing or as assistants to the directors of the first new wave, Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, and Patrick Tam, and went on to consolidate the aesthetics of their elders. The Second Wave is characterized by a more mature kind of experimentation, and deal with themes such as dislocation, emigration, and with issues relating to the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
See also The Cinema of Wong Kar-Wai.