Holes in the Wall 

Wong Kar-Wai and the Architecture of Absence

At the end of Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels, we find two lovers on a motorbike, racing through an underground a tunnel. Suddenly everything hits slow motion and we sense that something is up ahead. What is it? Are they about to break out into the open country? No, the lovers break out into a financial district with a crop of corporate headquarters rising hazily up into the morning twilight. What is significant about this scene is that the city vs. country binary order and its related formations (evil/good, closed/open, dirty/ clean) are rejected. As a consequence, Hong Kong (unlike the New York of Taxi Driver) is never questioned, doubted, or viewed as a problem that must be corrected.

Like Fallen Angels, Wong Kar-Wai's new film, In The Mood For Love, which is set in Hong Kong in 1962, takes place in closed spaces, narrow streets, steamy basement restaurants, shared apartments, and low-ceilinged offices. Yet not once during the sensuous course of the film do we feel claustrophobic or the terror of continued proximity with strangers or neighbors. That's because the small spaces are never contradicted. They are not haunted or challenged by wide-open space. Even the final sequence of the movie, which finds the hero, Tony Leung, contemplating life amongst some ancient ruins in a faraway rural area, does not denounce the small spaces of his Hong Kong world. Unlike the end of Blade Runner, nothing about this scene says, "At last I have arrived at freedom, paradise, a final home!" Tony is not here to stay, but is visiting--he is a tourist, like the lovers in Happy Together, another fine Wong Kar-Wai film.

A small room (bedroom, restaurant, office) in In the Mood For Love is not a "hole in the wall" but a universe filled with possibilities that are invisible to us Westerners who, as the French philosopher/mathematician Pascal once said, can't sit in a room for too long. We freak out, and want to run outside, into the liberating air. But if we ever hope to find happiness in the decreasing spaces of our Western cities, then we must become more like the men and women in Wong Kar-Wai's marvelous movie.

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