Document Type

Working Paper


This essay proposes that music, rather than images, furnishes a key to account for the transcultural appeal of Wong Kar-wai’s films. Transcultural appeal, in Wong’s case, resides in aesthetic evocation that obscures culturally specific, ethnic details. Appreciating Wong’s films demands lesser cultural or linguistic context than works of Zhang Yimou, for instance; instead, viewers are offered moments of dreamlike sounds and imagery intended for universal sensuous delectation. Unlike cross-cultural practices in which differences are managed and power relations negotiated, transcultural contact tends to neutralize cultural conflicts and emphasizes instead multicultural deterritorialization. Transcultural, in this regard, shifts attention from politics to aesthetics and creates spaces allowing different cultures to trespass, coexist, coalesce, and be ‘happy together.’ Based on this notion, the essay selects three key Wong Kar-wai films--Fallen Angels, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love—for case studies. These all demonstrate how transcultural analysis yields insight into the shifting meanings of identity, locality and Chinese diaspora. Mobility, portable identities and historical nostalgia in Wong’s films are conveyed primarily through musical channels, as well as image and performance.


David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies

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