After watching Chungking Express and Fallen Angels the other day, I was surprised to find that very little has been written on the bizarre connections both films have to each other. Some like to label it a “sister piece” or “semi-sequel” but I really feel like those terms don’t suffice what Wong Kar-Wai created. Technically, the hitman story in FA is the missing third part of CE. Both films are related in terms of locations and characters, but FA is really just a warped version of CE.
For anyone who is a WKW fan, you know that he loves overlap and connecting his films like this. Days of Being Wild flows into In The Mood For Love and 2046 is the sequel. Tarantino is the only other director that I can think of that creates his own cinematic universe as such. However, what WKW did that sets FA and CE apart is the character He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro). In the first film, he’s Cop 223, has a thing for canned pineapple, has the ability to speak, and lives on his own. The second film presents the same actor with the same character’s name, but he’s completely different. Through a voiceover, he describes himself as an ex-con whose prisoner number was 223, was rendered mute during childhood from eating expired canned pineapple, reveals that he is half-Russian, and he lives at home with his father. If you’ve seen the films, you know that it’s night and day in terms of the difference between these characters. However, the paradox is that it’s the same character, but it’s not.
My theory is that WKW, intentionally or not, has created a new form of story continuity. It’s not a sequel or a spin-off but some sort of mirrored version of the original story. Thoughts?
I wouldn’t call it new, as Vonnegut did it for years (For example, the main character of Mother Night is in Slaughterhouse Five, Diana Moon Glampers and Harrison Bergeron show up more than once, and, of course, Kilgore Trout is in all of them) and other authors as well, though I can’t think of any right off the top of my head. Perhaps WKW is the first to do it on film, though I wouldn’t bet on it.
I don’t mean diminish your point, as it is very cool when artists create works that exist separately, but within the same universe, and I too noticed the canned pineapple thing, but I don’t know if he really created something new, so much as he just put in little bits for the people who are paying attention to enjoy.
This practice goes back decades if not centuries – James Joyce’s novels are full of skewed links to each other, and he was by no means the first either. You also get similar overlaps between the Marx Brothers’ films – or rather, the continuity is between the performers, not the characters they play (for instance, in MONKEY BUSINESS when Chico asks Harpo to play the same tune with which he drove us up the wall by playing it repeatedly in ANIMAL CRACKERS, even though the characters ostensibly have different names).
Expanding on Sacredchao’s last point, I once saw a very funny interview with Krzysztof Kieslowski in which he revealed that he deliberately put in subtle connections between his films to keep the critics happy, though they had no particular value in themselves and it didn’t matter one iota if you spotted them or not.
It would be interesting to examine what directors use this technique. I can think of several authors who do it, including Salinger and Hemingway, but am having trouble thinking of any directors off the top of my head. I feel like it is probably more common in literature than film, because of the nature of the two art forms – although that seems like a vague reason. I have definitely seen it more often in literature than film, but would interested to explore this.
Also, Tarantino does this, but, eh, I don’t think I really want to get into Tarantino right now.
It would be interesting to assume it as kind of reincarnation of the characters who almost have the same fate and same love interests. But unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work for the informal trilogy Days of being Wild, In the Mood for Love and 2046. And somehow I think each character Tony Leung played in those three films is rather different, for it’s supposed to be the same.