Viewing Sinophone Cinema Through a French Theoretical
Lens: Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love,
and 2046, and Deleuze’s Cinema

By Flannery Wilson

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 21, no. 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 141-173

Wong Kar-Wai’s films are situated on a border space between East and West, the local and the global. Through his citation of European pastiche, Wong simultaneously builds from and shatters Chinese realism as he creates his own form of neo-realism–a neo-realism that questions the high-low art form divide. Many of his films are filled with similar motifs that can be linked to the idea of Hong Kong as a post-colonial space: missed opportunities, alienation, anxiety, suspension, and the disjunction of time. Both the French theorist Gilles Deleuze and the Sinophone filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai appear to have strikingly overlapping ideas and concerns; both welcome the birth of a new form of filmmaking, a kind of neo-realism that calls into question our perception of time as linear and chronological.

The author highlights and reflects upon the specific links that can be found between Deleuze and Wong Kar-Wai’s films, particularly In the Mood for Love and 2046. Wong Kar-wai’s use of space, time, and movement in his films IMFL and 2046 can be meaningfully analyzed using the Deleuzian terminology of Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image. In a sense, both Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung’s characters in IMFL are play-acting even within the context of the film; their affair is never fully realized because they are constantly rehearsing for the next “act.” This is an example of how Wong comments on the very nature of cinema itself. The idea that we, as viewers, can never be sure whether the action between the two protagonists is “real” or simply a rehearsal is reminiscent of Deleuze’s idea that film-space cannot and should not ever be fully contained within the camera frame.

Wong’s unconventional use of slow-motion, close-ups, and musical refrains distinguishes him from a more traditional style of filmmaking. Furthermore, in using French New Wave techniques along with his own unique style of filmmaking, Wong reaches beyond the clichés inherent in the “movement-image” toward a Deleuzian conception of the “time-image.” In his Cinema books, Deleuze seems to be calling for the very type of cinema that Wong produces, a cinema that exists in a liminal space like Hong Kong itself, the “third border space” between East and West. It is in a similar border space that the cinema of the time-image thrives.