Modernist aesthetics in the films of Wong Kar-wai

  • Jingjing Song

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Wong Kar-wai is a premier avant-garde auteur of Hong Kong cinema. In the existing research, postmodernism is considered as a predominant approach to shed light on Wong’s aesthetics, poetics and politics. Being the iconoclastic ‘poet of time,’ Wong Kar-wai is extolled as a leading figure for his postmodernist style of visually unique and emotional resonant film works. Recurring motifs, such as alienation and rejection, time and memory, pursuit and loss, are regarded as representations of cultural and political anxieties of Hong Kong people in the context of 1980s and 1990s. Wong’s characteristic exoticism and cosmopolitism in his films also distinguishes him from other Chinese-language directors. However, when we expand the scope of the postmodern terrain, we find modernism and its attendant aesthetics are just as relevant and important as postmodernism to the understanding of Wong’s oeuvre. This thesis evokes a comparative perspective of modernism proposed by Eugene Lunn as an aesthetic approach, with an illustrative analysis by using David Bordwell’s and Kristin Thompson’s work on non-Hollywood cinema. This approach emphasizes four major directions of the social and cultural aspects influenced by modernism in art. Using this approach requires researchers to find cinematic representations of modernism in terms of aesthetic self-consciousness, juxtaposition of time, ambiguity and dehumanization within the film. This research takes Wong Kar-wai’sAshes of Time Redux (2008) as a case study to explore the alternative interpretations beyond postmodernism. The investigation of Wong’s uses of modernist approach involves the analysis of his experiments of conventional film techniques and strategic employment of the mise-en-scene, camera angles, lenses, lighting, and music, which constitute his pictorial world. My assertion is that Wong’s juxtaposition of time and space createsan elusive and ambiguous fictional world in response to his reflection on the dehumanization of an integral individual subject in the modernized world.

    Date of Award24 Dec 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorEmilie Y Y YEH (Supervisor)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Criticism and interpretation
    • Modernism (Aesthetics)
    • Wong, Kar-wai 1958-

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