Once you’ve been enticed by this alluring two-parter, take time out for Days of Being Wild (1990). Wong’s downbeat second feature, starring the cream of Hong Kong talent at the time, spectacularly flopped on release. But it was lavished with critical acclaim and has emerged as one of his best films, one which captures the yawning existential ennui of youth while exploring his obsession with time. Leslie Cheung gives an iconic performance as a disaffected ladies’ man rebelling against boredom as much as the rejection of the first woman that ever loved him – his mother.
It’s also worth exploring Happy Together (1997), Fallen Angels (1995) and Ashes of Time, along with Wong’s tantalising short, ‘The Hand’, which is the strongest out of the three segments that make up Eros (2004). It easily outclasses Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni’s contributions.
Where not to start
Who knew so much could be lost in translation? Wong’s much-hyped English language debut, My Blueberry Nights (2007), was a dismal failure and is likely to put you off the rest of his work if you begin here. His dialogue, usually so ravishingly poetic, comes off as trite and clunky in this story of a lovelorn waitress (Norah Jones) who goes on a road trip across America after her two-timing boyfriend breaks up with her.
Jones doesn’t really have the screen presence to carry off a leading role and the singer is woefully miscast, as is Jude Law as her Mancunian love interest. As a love story, it’s easy to consume but instantly forgettable – something you could never say about any of Wong’s other films.
He bounced back with The Grandmaster (2013), albeit in his own leisurely fashion six years later. It’s an opulent biopic of the legendary martial arts master Ip Man (played by his muse Leung) that has become his biggest box office success to date. It’s a little stiff and muddled to qualify as a true return to form, which means it’s better to explore this one later once you’ve familiarised yourself with his other films, but there are still flashes of brilliance in this sweeping historical drama.