While a product of the fertile Hong Kong filmmaking community of the '90s, writer/director Wong Kar-Wai did not traffic in the over-the-top action blowouts favored by the likes of John Woo and Tsui Hark. Instead, his films took their inspiration from the seminal work of Jean-Luc Godard and the French New Wave, painting idiosyncratic and romantic tales of the young and disenfranchised uniquely representative of the myriad cultural influences which distinguish his native land.
Essentially, Wong restructured a sector of the entertainment genre that thrives on action in a way that would allow him to use its traditional themes in order to make art films, proving himself to be a rarity within the genre. Equally unique is Wong's bold style, which thrives on pixilated slow motion action scenes, distorted close-ups, and fight sequences shot from several disoriented angles.
Far from being alienated within the film community, Wong has become a favorite among both critics and the Honk Kong acting circuit. Drawn to his fascination with mood and texture over a more straightforward narrative approach, action favorites including Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-Fai, and Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia have enjoyed working with Wong, claiming that it gave them a rare opportunity to play meatier, less conventional roles.
Born in Shanghai in 1958, Wong studied graphic design at Hong Kong Polytechnic. Fostering an interest in photography, in particular the work of Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Richard Avedon, Wong enrolled in a TV drama training program sponsored by Hong Kong Television Broadcasts Ltd shortly after his graduation in 1980. After being recognized for his initial work as a production assistant on a number of serials, he quickly progressed to scriptwriting, most notably for the popular soap opera Don't Look Now. After exiting HKTVB's ranks in 1982, Wong became a noted screenwriter, scripting close to a dozen films over the course of the following five years. While working on Patrick Tam's 1986 feature The Final Victory, Wong conceived his directorial debut, the gangster picture As Tears Go By; released two years later, the film was a sensation on the festival circuit, winning raves for its gritty portrayal of the mean streets of Hong Kong. 1991's Days of Being Wild cemented his reputation as a talent to watch, garnering a number of international awards.
In 1992, Wong mounted Ashes of Time, an ambitious martial arts epic filmed with an all-star cast. During a break in the picture's lengthy editing process, Wong began working on another project dubbed Chungking Express, writing the screenplay in a Holiday Inn coffee shop by day and shooting each night wherever there was enough light. Debuting in 1994, the quirky romantic thriller emerged as the director's international breakthrough when it was selected by rabid fan Quentin Tarantino as the first product of his Rolling Thunder distribution company, becoming the first of Wong's features to receive proper American release. After resurfacing in 1995 with Fallen Angels, two years later Wong premiered Happy Together at the Cannes Film Festival, going home with the jury's Best Director award. Wong followed its success with the well-regarded In the Mood for Love in 2000.