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Journal of Chinese Cinemas Volume 2 Number 3 © 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jcc.2.3.197/1

Memories of sound and light': musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai
Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho
University of Montreal


This essay promotes an investigation into the musical discourse in the films of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, focusing primarily on the way that music is applied to disrupt narrativetime, thus creating what Gilles Deleuze called 'pure optical and sonorous situations'. It also considers the use of popular and preexisting music and the cultural relations established by them, raising the questions of what it means to use songs that are recognizable in a global cultural context, and what they can add to the filmic experience. Although Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai is customarily known for his striking visual style - images of modern living, flashes of urban alienation and aesthetic experimentation condensed in an intricate narrative - I would like to point out that sound and music are also among the most recognizable and fundamental elements of his films. Who doesn't remember, for example, the obsessive repetition of the song 'California Dreaming' in Chungking Express (1994), Nat King Cole's Latin boleros in In The Mood for Love (2000), or Astor Piazolla's Argentinean tangos in Happy Together (1997)? The purpose of this essay is to shed some light on the musical discourse of Wong's films - in other words, to identify the role that music plays in his cinema. Traditionally, film music has been treated as a mere 'accompaniment' to the image, a concept that is reminiscent of the early developments of film sound when films were literally accompanied by a live orchestra or a single pianist/singer (Abel and Altman 2001). The point that even the earliest 'film musicians' understood is that music lends its emotional qualities to whatever image it is associated with. Any music will have an effect when juxtaposed with an image, 'just as whatever two words one puts together will produce a meaning different from that of each word separately, because the reader/spectator automatically imposes meaning on such combinations' (Gorbman 1987: 15). The effects of this association are generally twofold: music can either be used to reinforce or contradict what happens on screen. The mode of reinforcement, also called parallelism, is based on the use of music to match the scene's mood or pace: smooth music for romantic scenes, fast-paced music for action scenes and so on. The counterpoint, on the other hand, consists of the use of music, not to repeat what is on the screen, but to contradict it.
JCC 2 (3) pp. 197-210 © Intellect Ltd 2008

Wong Kar-wai Gilles Deleuze

film sound ffim music
pre-existing music

1. Memories of Sound and Light is the title of an unofficial Wong songbook released by Universal in 2004 containing some of the most memorable songs in his films.


creating a new sense of temporality. We 198 Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho . In such cases music is not dependent upon the image but. 'The filmgoer is not supposed to notice or be distracted by the music. in which fast-paced music is employed to create a sensation of excitement and anticipation. both use familiar musical qualities to 'lull' the spectator (or consumer) into a relaxed and passive mood. 2 an idea that was also contemplated by Theodor Adorno and Hanns Eisler in their well-known critique Composing for the Films (Eisler and Adorno 1971). This attitude. on the contrary. costumes and dialogues. which demands a different interpretation from that of the traditional instrumental score. of discontinuity. perhaps more importantly. 'Only the use of sound as counterpoint regarding the image offers new possibilities of developing and perfecting the montage' (Eisenstein 1976: 20). elevators and doctors' offices. both are subordinated to a larger context (film or convenience store) and. reflecting a large array of cultural codes that makes it difficult to pinpoint. I will argue that music in Wong's films is often used to disrupt the linearity of the image. Claudia Gorbman compares this type of film music to 'easy-listening' music. where time is not represented indirectly through the succession of movementimages. as Gorbman says. This is not to underestimate the purely musical qualities of the film score. but also to ease the spectator's path into the narrative experience: 'Film music lessens awareness of the frame. as I shall argue. providing what Gilles Deleuze (1985: 10) called 'pure optical and sonorous situations'. thus emphasizing the accelerated movement of the action scenes . most importantly. but only to further reassert its place as secondary to the narrative. but presented directly through the time-image. since. the relationship between lyrics and image and. Whether they come from the diegetic or non-diegetic field. the kind one would hear in department stores.2. it draws the spectator further into the diegetic illusion' (Gorbman 1987: 59). Rhythm. The music employed in Wong's films comes from different times. I would also like to focus on Wong's abundant use of popular music. its primary role being to reinforce. Sergei Eisenstein and the Soviet formalists defended the counterpoint as a way of emancipating the musical score from its dependence on the visual elements of the film. The classical mode of film score is based entirely on functionality. subjects it to its own rhythm. one must make a purposeful effort to notice the music. or clarify narrative and emotive aspects of the story' (Gorbman 2006: 6).as an example we can mention Teddy Kwan's score for As Tears Go By (1988). there are some challenges to be considered: first of all. ethnicity and genre. All the English translations in this paper are the author's. repetition and time: the case of'Yumeji's Theme' When it comes to analysing a film score. cultural references with which the spectator may have a prior relationship. styles and parts of the world. these songs evoke questions about character formation. music's function being not only to reinforce the mood of a film or a particular scene. Both are made to be consumed but not to be closely listened to. intensify. In this essay. especially pre-existing songs with lyrics. While Wong's use of music frequently follows the classical mode of reinforcement . film music is often employed to give important cultural clues that refer to the film's historicity. is indicative of Wong's complex relationship with genre cinema and the cultural codes that it entails. As happens with certain elements of decor.I would like to point out that it also transcends its functional status.

The best way to go about this. and a vibration felt in the skin and the bones'. since it engenders different sensorial responses. Secondly. or when the use of a well-known pre-existing song reminds us of a familiar sound. twice when they are together in the hotel room. The music appears a total of eight times throughout the film: first when the characters meet. music may help the spectator feel the mood of a scene more than images and dialogues sometimes can. 'a sonorous figure in the ears. when an overly sentimental score ends up calling attention tci the film's manipulative strategies. it is difficult to verbalize the experience of musical pleasure in general. Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai 199 . that which is bi-sensorial. music can often be neglected or simply forgotten without being missed. Composed by Shigeru Umebayashi. a technique that. and in particular in relation to the filmic image. is being used ever more frequently since the 1950s and 1960s (Knight and Wojcik 2001: 05). this theme provides an atmosphere of melancholy that is most important for the emotional tone of the film. On the opposite scale. Otherwise. Purely musical qualities such as rhythm. the emotional depth not verbally representable' (Gorbman 1987: 67). that is. while 'the luminous impact of an image is punctually localised in the field of vision. Gorbman also claims that 'music enters to satisfy a need to compensate for. I feel. harmony and melodic movement stimulate sensual responses that are different from those raised by the image. 1962) use music very sparingly to avoid an unwanted overexaggeration of the emotional tone of their films. Michel Chion explains that music is bi-sensorial. Well. for example. Finally. Derived from an existing score (for Suzuki Seijun's 1991 film Yumeji). it would also explain why film-makers such as Eric Rohmer (My Night at Maud's. Most aesthetic theories explain the phenomenon of musical pleasure through the concept of 'aesthetic experience'. That would explain why. and one last time when they decide to go their separate ways. especially since one cannot 'pause' the music and the image at the same time to observe how they work together. that is. Having said that. a subjective experience firmly rooted in the senses. that which touches two senses at the same time. it is also difficult for someone who is not a professional musician to appropriately identify all the musical elements in play. I will now consider the love theme that accompanies the encounters between characters Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung) in In The Mood for Love. since its emotional connection remains deeply subjective. in more 'objective' or non-sentimental scenes. silence and comparison (analysis of the same sequence without music or with other music in its place). has bigger efficacy and immediate impact' (Chion 1995: 221). 'Yumeji's Theme' embodies the indetermination of the lovers as they repeatedly approach and retreat from each other. twice when they are isolated but thinking about each other. we might become so invested in the narrative world that we wouldn't become fully aware of the music unless we consciously choose to do so. twice when they go to the noodle stall. is through a detailed description of the music and the images provided by repetitive viewing (and listening). 1969) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Eclipse.may notice a film score when it's a particularly bad one. fill in. albeit not exclusive of contemporary cinema.

thus subverting the classical rule according to which the duration of a piece of music must be subordinated to the duration of the scene (Gorbman 1987: 76). the music is radically different from the 'elastic' tune traditionally composed for film scores in small malleable pieces that can be easily cut or extended to suit a particular scene. All of the emotional tension between them is provided by the music and the slow motion of their bodies as they pass by each other. that is. it is often used to identify characters and provide formal and narrative unity through the use of themes. however. in turn. A silent viewing of this scene confirms that. at this point they don't exchange a single look. In fact. disrupts the temporality of the action. creates a very intimate and languorous sound. there is little to no expression in this scene. each on his/her own time. when both characters go. a causal Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho 200 .heard more than once during the course of a film' (Gorbman 1987: 27). One clear example of a theme song is that composed by Umebayashi for 2046 (Wong. not only of the music's manifestation in the film but also of the music's own rhythm. or classical cinema from modern cinema. which. For example. According to Deleuze. Although the characters share the same limited space. In the classical system of the movement-image. along with the piece's mellow rhythm. since the actors' faces remain mostly unseen and the slow motion by itself renders merely an odd sense of movement. we have to consider the role of repetition.even the smoke from a cigarette . to the noodle stall. which symbolizes the whole identity of the film. 2004). Repetition is not an uncommon technique in film music . Let us examine the first scene. albeit still sentimental. 3 this theme is not grandiloquent or robust: the orchestra acts merely as background accompaniment for the violins. provides a sense that everybody and everything .is languorously moving to the rhythm of the music. the action is dominated by a sensory-motor organization of movement. the first verse of the music is so slow that the scene must have a certain duration in order to fully embody it. In this case. A theme is defined as any music . This way. The motif is a sentimental waltz executed by violins and an orchestra. '2046 Main Theme' contains. along with the slowness of the music itself. 1982). It is important to notice that in every appearance of this motif the image is in slow motion. melody-fragment. notice Frank Skinner's use of a full orchestra in his scores for two of Douglas Sirk's most well-known melodramas. without the sentimentality of the music. All that Heaven Allows (1955) and Imitation of Life (1959). rendering the sound soft and velvety. Unlike a traditional 'full orchestra' interpretation of a typical Hollywood melodrama. Finally. The violins have a grave tone to them. even if it means congregating different narrative elements inside a single harmonic piece. The camera captures Su Li-Zhen as she slowly descends the stairs and remains stationary until she returns.melody. the repetition of the theme song functions as an illustration of the film's overall mood. Then. simultaneously. which.3. even though this music is clearly non-diegetic. or distinctive harmonic progression .in fact. Chow Mo-Wan does the exact same movement: descending and ascending the stairs. The obsessively repetitive pattern of 'Yumeji's Theme'. it is the representation of time that differentiates the movement-image from the time-image. creates a sonorous disruption that. a violin that refers to the romantic journey of the main character and some jazzy beats reminiscent of the score composed by Vangelis for the archetypal science fiction Blade Runner (Ridley Scott.

Sound phenomena are more linear in time than images. since it keeps returning to the same point over and over again.the addition of musical rhythm can build up expectation for the next moment. of immobile movement. If a sequence of successive images can already imply a certain degree of temporal linearity. the sensation of temporal progression can be therefore completed with the addition of a linear sound. In order to fully comprehend how this happens. it creates a circular motion. two parallel scenes taking place in different locations are easily presumed to be simultaneous if there is one harmonious sound connecting them. Not only musical tempo and the punctual pace of events. The use of 'Yumeji's Theme' in In The Mood for Love represents an example of a pure optical and sonorous situation. Time is represented in the movement-action only indirectly. It is useful to mention that a different version of the same motif appears in Wong's latest film. If a sound pattern is repeated indefinitely. to break the logical chain of events of the movement-image. There's no crescendo. but one in which continuity is only perceived as such through discontinuities (Mitry 1997: 107). we eventually stop noticing it. there are almost no perceptible changes in the progression of a rather obsessive piece of music. A pure optical and sonorous situation doesn't prolong itself into action anymore. the action is not propelled forward by the sound but. 201 . on the other hand. (Chion 1995: 208. added emphasis) The rhythm of 'Yumeji's Theme' is extremely repetitive. instead. rhythm is a uniform progression in time. and represents time directly through the depiction of pure optical and sonorous situations. The time-image. This repetition is only accentuated by the fact that the characters are frequently performing the same actions and going to the same places. providing a sense of stationary time. creating 'time inside time . Novelty is then necessary . Again.which can be dictated by the movement of objects and people inside the scene. is an image that has become free from the classical narrative realism. a constantly repeated pattern of sounds.to assure that the rhythm maintains its flow. and this anticipation is incorporated into our perception of the image. There is no proper action in such Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wal 4. showing that repetition and intertextuality go hand in hand in his films. this experience is further enhanced by the notion of rhythm. if a film sequence has its own internal rhythm . For example. 4 Because of this. through the linear chain of narrated events. In music. harmony and range: a piece of music written in a tonal style and inside a determined framework gives way to anticipation about the moment when it is going to end or pause.a minor change in harmony and progression . the movement of the camera or the succession of images .or time in brackets' (Chion 1995: 212). since music is used to disturb the linear flux of time. since it is no longer induced by an action' (Deleuze 1985: 29). for they are perceived in a horizontal and non-reversible vector from beginning to end (Chion 1994: 35).especially by certain phenomena such as melodic pace. By definition. we must first observe how film music can influence our perception of cinematic time. My Blueberry Nights (2007). that is. but also the tonal and formal system where this music is inscribed contribute to a certain temporalization.motivation that links one action to the next.

Different. with 'Julien et Barbara'. or when a non-diegetic music suddenly becomes diegetic with the appearance of a radio or a band in the background. to an imaginary orchestra pit or live musician that accompanies or illustrates the action and dialogues without being a part of them' (Chion 1995: 189). since the song is heard diegetically. the non-diegetic music comes from the 'absolute offscreen' (Deleuze 1985: 306). it is an error to assume that diegetic is more realistic than non-diegetic music._ music. Emotional connections: diegetic music and character composition At this point. Moreover. Umebayashi (In The Mood for Love. Soderbergh. 'acousmatique' (Chion 1999: 18) music whose source is not visible. record players and club bands in 2046 and In the Moodfor Love. Fallen Angels [1995]). or. In Days of Being Wild (Wong. As we shall see further on. as is the case of Chungking Express with the repetition of 'California Dreaming'. but also to re-orchestration of pre-existing classical films. comes from within the visualized world of the film. this time that is of a subjective nature rather than a linear succession of moments. The overall sensation that emerges from this is that the characters are somehow trapped inside this time in brackets. Traditional Beijing and Cantonese operas are present in In the Moodfor Love with excerpts from Si Long Tan Mu and Sang Yuan Ji Zi. jukeboxes are prominently shown in Fallen Angels. for example. By instrumental score I'm referring not only to original material composed by these musicians especially for the films. Chungking Express. and Leslie Cheung's character dances to the rhythm of a chacha song ('Maria Elena'). that imaginary place of the narrator. the source of which is not yet visible but remains as a part of the action.that is. it is not only the rhythm of the music that is repetitive (for the chorus in a pop song demands repetition). from a noise or a voice off-screen. 2004]). 2046) and Peer Raben (the episode The Hand in the portmanteau film Eros [Wong. Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho 202 .5. it is important to distinguish between diegetic music . performed by Tan Xin Pei. and Hong Niang Hui Zhang Sheng. In Wong's case it corresponds mostly to the instrumental scores produced for his films by composers such as Frankie Chan (Ashes of Time [1994]. Michael Galasso (In The Mood For Love). music that emanates from the visible space of the action . This distinction of the music's place of origin is important because it can change our perception of the music and therefore its relation to the image. in scenes where diegetic music exits the visual space of the action but continues to be heard nondiegetically. In this case. It is important to notice that this strategy is not exclusive to In The Mood for Love but exemplary of many of Wong's films. as Chion calls it. on the other hand.the main characters dance the tango.and non-diegetic music. Antonioni. Chinese opera and scores from other Diegetic music. scenes. it can be achieved even with the use of a popular song. the line between the two is often being blurred. Non-diegetic or acousmatique music 'is the one that the spectator attributes. performed by Zheng Jun Mian and Li Hang. According to Gorbman. in scenes where the characters listen to music. by elimination. only pure duration. sing or dance. be it diegetic or non-diegetic music. because 'The mood of any music in the soundtrack. will be felt in association with diegetic events' (Gorbman 1987: 23). and music also comes from radios. from Norma) and a pre-existing film score is also present in 2046. Carina Lau's character is a performer. originally from the soundtrack of Fran4ois Truffaut's Vivement Dimanche (1983). 1990). Western opera ('Casta Diva'. but also the synchronous action that accompanies it. In Happy Together. Danny Chung (Happy Together).

Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai 6. In the end. From this moment on the song becomes a signifier for 'May'. alarm clocks. Chungking Express is all about time displacements and the malleable experience that comes with it: characters are always checking for expiration dates. It is very efficient and economic: once this identification is established. breaking yet another rule of the traditional film score. when the policeman played by Tony Leung is introduced to May (Faye Wong). The song appears for the first time in the second part of the film. In this scene. but. since it is May herself who chooses to listen to it repeatedly. deadlines and future promises. where the constant repetition of this song creates a leitmotif for Faye Wong's character. instead of 'What a Difference a Day Makes'. as in the well-known scenes with two different image velocities (that of the character and that of the world around him). 'California Dreaming' is repeated in Chungking Express to the point where it disrupts the film's representation of linear time. Since it emanates directly from the scene. in any context. 'What music translates more finely and richly. according to which music should be secondary to any narrative source. Let us go back now to the use of 'California Dreaming' in Chungking Express.It is true. David Martinez states that his sound score 'does not serve to illustrate a real and precise context. since it can be heard virtually every time the assassin makes an appearance in the film. every time we hear 'California Dreaming' in the film (a total of eight times). situation or place. In many of Wong's films. we almost feel that the narrative stops so that characters may express themselves through music or dance.6 For example. creating a rather circular motion. without associating it with her image. the music is so loud that it even obstructs the dialogue. this kind of music represents more of the characters' subjective experiences than a commentary made by the narrator. her character is in a scene listening and dancing to it. What the analysis shows us is that this experience is no more visual than sonorous. is the ever-changing flux of emotions experienced by a character' (Chion 1995: 225). showing a rather current trend of using popular pre-existing music as leitmotif (Rodman 2006:119). so repeatedly that it has become difficult to listen to this song. As happens with the use of 'Yumeji's Theme' in In The Mood For Love. The difference in this case is that 'California Dreaming' is diegetically justified. when the policeman finally realizes that she has romantic feelings for him. all it takes is the sound to immediately transport the spectator to that specific context. that diegetic music tends to be more intimately connected to the characters. all the while trapped in a present full of repetitive and mundane actions. 203 . In one of the first articles to contemplate the use of music in Wong's films. The characters' experience of time in this film is expressed to the extent that it can be almost seized visually. so much so that. a leitmotif is a theme employed specifically to create identification between the music and a singular character. nevertheless. without any other element being able to replace it in this function. May actually goes to the 'real' California to see for herself if it was anything like she imagined from listening to the song. he plays the CD that she left in his apartment with the song. By definition. which was a signifier for his old girlfriend. to convene a universe that is purely referential. interior even' (Martinez 1997: 30). The remix of Massive Attack's song 'Karma Koma' in Fallen Angels is another example. since it is as much materialized by the use of music as by visual techniques. rather. and consequently it becomes more integrated with the narrative.

and of The Turtles' 'Happy Together' in Happy Together. 'California Dreaming' and 'What a Difference a Day Makes' in Chungking Express. There are. Tony Leung. There are also Cantonese versions of The Cranberries' 'Dreams' in Chungking Express. there is still a 204 Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho . Norah Jones). In this way. Frank Zappa's 'Chunga Revenge' and 'I Have Been in You' in Happy Together. My Blueberry Nights. it is not surprising that Wong's films are often associated with the style of music videos. but by largely incorporating it into his own style. 'Te Quiero Dijiste' and 'Quizdis. 'The end of the 1950s and 1960s saw a triumph of the melody. but one that gives itself to be discovered and that does everything to be heard and memorized' (Chion 1995: 139).it becomes the central point around which other sounds are organized. Cat Power and many other popular artists.At this point it is important to notice that a song with lyrics. Quizds. for real spectators. but also by the appropriation of a certain stylistic imagery pertaining to the music video industry Even though music videos are becoming more and more heterogeneous both in style and content. Quizds' in In the Mood for Love and Connie Francis' version of 'Siboney' in 2046. since it coordinates essential elements such as human voice. Before the appearance of the music video. relate differently to the film. and most probably will. of Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away' in As Tears Go By. from the moment we recognize the human voice ... Many of the actors that work in Wong's films are pop stars in China and elsewhere (Carina Lau. expression and history to the film. and often perform their own songs on the films' soundtracks. such as 'Take My Breath Away' in As Tears Go By.whether it is in a dialogue or in a song . Is scored entirely by a compilation of songs by Ry Cooder. Faye Wong. is never neutral: whether or not it was composed exclusively for the film. and from the 1960s the use of songs especially jazz and rock and roll . Cole's renditions of Aquellos Ojos Verdes'. Wong's newest film. In the sonorous environments created for and by the characters with diegetic music. not only by the frequent use of pop stars and songs. language and speech. unlike the classical instrumental score. economical reasons behind the use of a preexisting song. and Wong takes advantage of this practice neither by refusing nor blindly accepting it. Andy Lau.. Each Wong Kar-wai film has one or more pre-existing songs featured in the soundtrack. released in 2007. The use of popular music has been a part of cinema since the beginning of sound accompaniment. It is also important to consider that pre-existing songs carry their own language. and spectators who were already familiar with these songs (or the artists that perform them) can. since these songs and their performers may attract a larger audience and boost profit with soundtrack CD sales. cinema had always been a medium for the diffusion of music and celebrities. and then everything else' (Chion 1999: 5). Chion speaks of vococentrism to state the importance of the human voice in relation to other sounds: 'In actual movies. it is there to be noticed by the spectator.became a major way to score films. Leslie Cheung. That is. a melody that was no longer carefully closed in a motif. There are voices. there are not all the sounds including the human voice. pre-existing popular songs have a special place. of course.

where. and saturation. Ultimately. wearing his dark sunglasses and being surrounded by mystery. the sheer sense of rhythm that emanates from this kind of music/image association. released in February 1997. of a relaxed mise-en-scýne. as he has already directed a music video 7 and influenced other artists in that medium. The disappearance of dead time. for example. One word: fast' (Vernier 1986: 132). The saturation in some of Wong's films. Scorsese. like a feature-length preview made only of the most pregnant moments. The music video creates. with its technique of showing everything at the same time. 8 He has even invested himself with the persona of a rock star. exemplified by fldnerie films. originate incontestably from the music video' (Lalanne 2000: 63). In The Mood for Love and 2046 . The video was directed by David Mould and features the song 'Halo' from Texas' album White on Blonde. second. the use of Latin music. as seen by fdimmakers such as Lynch. numerous and brief shots. such as fast rhythm of montage. things happen so fast that they almost can't be grasped all at once. Film music is largely used to provide contextual information for the spectator: in the first moments of a film. Tarantino. who made a music video that reconstructed. such as 'Perfidia'. The video called Six Days (released in 2002) promotes the artist DJ Shadow and features many of Wong's stylistic trademarks. Days of Being Wild. shot by shot. that determine emotional and cognitive suggestions according to when. of visual effect and performance' (Vernier 1986: 134). we can easily determine if we are to be 'transported' to New York city or a European turn-of-the-century setting. there are purely musical qualities of the piece by itself. One example comes from the Scottish band Texas. and finally there are cultural musical codes that evoke the film's genre. a 'pulsation-image. there are two main tendencies provoked by this crisis: rarefaction.consensus around some of the characteristics evoked by the term 'MTV aesthetics'. music signifies in film on three different levels: first. according to Jean-Marc Vernier. inserting ambiguity where one would normally expect security and reaffirmation.but also heard in Happy Together and even in Wong's series of commercial spots for Japanese designer Takeo Kikuchi. is an indication of just how well his style translates into this new medium. as Jean-Marc Lalanne points out: 'The articulation of a sound score full of songs and the images that simply illustrate them (and not the other way around). . there are narrative musical codes. where and how music is played in relation to the images. anticipation and gossip about his unorthodox film-making practices.namely. Wong complicates this equation by constantly shifting these codes around. Wong's association with the music video universe has gone full circle now. predominant in his 1960s trilogy . whether we hear jazz beats and brass instruments or a smooth waltz accompanied by accordions. And Wong is not alone in this trend. what the 'music video aesthetics' promotes is a new interpretation of the crisis of the movement-image. where it is the music that dictates the pace of the action. The range of Latin songs used in the films goes from Cuban Xavier Cugat's chacha and mambo classics from the 1940s. The music video is an example of saturation. According to Deleuze (1983: 281). 'camera movements induced by the sheer pleasure of virtuosity. resolves itself in the exacerbation of the image. 'Siboney' and Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai 205 7. where characters drift aimlessly through the space and where dead times abound. time or location. as well as the actors Chang Chen and Danielle Graham. saturated images. located on the edges of the movement-image in cinema. selected scenes from Chungking Express. Latin music and cultural codes According to Gorbman (1987: 13). on the contrary. Let us consider. 8.

I also draw from Fredric Jameson's concept of postmodern historicity. 11. My understanding of a community's cultural identity passes through Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined communities." But. the lyrics. Wong uses it in contrast with his dialogues and characters' subdued behavior. Cole's boleros would probably not be their first choice. But what do these songs represent. and most of the band musicians were from the Philippines. contrary to Almod6var's use of bolero to highlight the melodramatic sensibility of his own films. released in 2000. with Cole's Spanish renditions of classic boleros in In The Mood for Love. as they evoke a certain notion of community and cultural identity that is different to that of the Chinese characters represented in the film. in which communities are cultural artifacts. the language in which they are sung all evoke an explicit communication of feelings that is immediately identified with Latin melodrama and sentimentality. The bolero. so there was a lot of Latin music. in other words. Because the characters of this film tend to speak so infrequently. never did depend) on authentic representation but. Mark Allinson (2001) credits the film-maker for recuperating this Hispanic musical heritage and transforming it into something 'camp but cool'. often occupying both the material and the semantic functions of Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho 206 . In his study of Almod6var's films. a Chinese song with English lyrics recorded in the 1960s by Rebecca Pan. Argentinean Astor Piazolla's 'Tango Apasionado' (Happy Together). Wong has said in many interviews that Latin songs were actually popular at that time in Hong Kong. for a number of reasons. If we took away the music from In The Mood for Love and asked a spectator who wasn't familiar with the film to guess what was playing in the sound score. One such interview is provided in the special features of In The Moodfor Love's Criterion Collection DVD. extremely popular in Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s. which means that they were recuperated by artists and film-makers such as Pedro Almod6var. who also appears in the film. to Hollywood's filter. where Wong says: 'We had a lot of western music in Hong Kong at that time. who re-transformed them from something clich6d and outdated into something new and popular. productions 'distinguished. but by the style in which they are imagined' (Anderson 1991: 06). Brazilian Caetano Veloso's 'Cucurrucucu Paloma' (Happy Together). a popular song from the 1930s that was also a theme song from the 1946 melodrama Chang Xiang Si (An AllConsuming Love). besides a great knowledge and interest from Wong on the topic of Latin music? Regarding the 1960s period. the rhythm.9 Although they might represent accurately what local people listened to in a specific historical context. First of all. instead. the rumba and the ranchera are styles in which sentimentality is taken to extremes. In the case of Latin music. because if we follow the culturally coded definition of filmgenre music. and 'Bengawan Solo'.this particular choice of music appears to be much 0 1 more exotic than the 'period' Chinese songs also used in the same film. These musical styles.' 10.9. for someone that comes from elsewhere . but instead approached the "past" through stylistic connotation. intimacy is created through highly dramatic lyrics and performances based on exaggerated gestures and voice. experienced a renaissance through the camp movement from the 1990s on.especially from Latin America . the style of the songs. conveying "pastness" by the glossy qualities of the image' (Jameson 1991: 19). these songs would carry the meaning 'Latin America' rather than 'Hong Kong'. not by their falsity/genuineness. in which the recreation of a particular historical context does not depend (or. Notably. on a stylistic approach to the past: 'It being understood that the nostalgia film was never a matter of some old-fashioned "representation" of historical content. This is most noticeable in the use of sentimental boleros in In the Mood for Love. these songs become very noticeable. 'Maria Elena' (Days of Being Wild and 2046). 'Hua Yang de Nian Hua'.

ks. it would not be entirely appropriate to say that Wong refuses the use of culturally or historically coded music. In the end. but it would be best to say that he uses this kind of music to create his own system of cultural references. And. this is not entirely true. instead of the usual traditional Chinese score. in other cases. Wong surpasses its restrictions by closely integrating it to the story and the characters' representations. while one might be tempted to say that Wong makes no use of traditional or 'characteristic' pieces of music that. For example. the score composed by Chan for his martial arts film Ashes of Time is 'inspired by Ennio Morricone's compositions for the spaghetti western. Piazzola's interpretations of traditional tango are used as a symbol of Argentina and Argentinean culture. 207 . Indeed. the bolero adds the melodramatic note to an otherwise subtle and subdued love story. since the tango is as alien to his Chinese protagonists as any other cultural symbol for Argentina.accentuates this contrasting effect. This pattern is indicative of Wong's dialectical relationship with genre cinema. thus falling into the category according to which it is more related to the characters and the diegetic action than the imaginary narrator. supposedly to give it the "local flavor"' (Martinez 1997: 30). cultural origin or cinematic genre. perhaps. in this case. juxtaposed. And so the days go by/I.the speech (not only do we notice the songs but we listen to what they say). the tango (as music and dance) is used less as a musical metonym than as a sonorous metaphor for the struggles between the two lovers. it appears as though all the indecision and tension between the would-be lovers is expressed in the explicitly sentimental chorus of 'Quiz. quizds. t6 contestando/Quizds. By introducing familiar elements (music being one of the most easily recognizable of them) he raises the spectator's horizon of expectation only to deconstruct it soon afterward. Quiz4s. there is also the surprising use of Zappa's rock songs (not an obvious choice). Musical selections such as these represent different cultural influences that. But even in this case the use of 'ethnic' music is ambiguous. Being a musical genre based on the overt expression of romantic feelings. sound thus extrapolating both cultural and narrative boundaries. as he is constantly raising certain traditional elements of wellknown cinematic genres only to re-work and recreate them in an unexpected fashion.'12 The song functions almost like an ironic commentary. As a result of these remarks. Before we can begin to question the validity of such a cultural metonym. you only say/ Perhaps. perhaps'. Most of the time the tango is heard diegetically. desesperadolY t6. quizds. especially if we take into consideration the fact that the whole film could be summarized by the idea of 'perhaps': perhaps they were lovers? Perhaps they wanted to go away together? The way that the song is performed . Quizds': 'Y asi pasan los diaslY yo. just to give another example. desperate/And you. in Happy Together. which work as a contrast for the more culturally coded tango. or music that caters to the so-called local flavor. Nevertheless. demonstrate the Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wal 12. evoking all the dramatic elements of Latin melodrama. might have been used to localize the story in a specific historical period. and in a rhythm that recalls the sensual movement of ballroom dance . one that is global rather than local.in a different language than that of the dialogues. as if it was saying something about them as well as to them.

rather. Anderson. W. While his use of popular songs might be considered commercial. Deleuze. The Voice in Cinema. M. While his use of instrumental non-diegetic music might be considered classical. after all. 0. it is also used to disrupt narrative progression and provide a different sense of temporality. Conclusion So far. Composing for the Films. these dualities are only so in appearance. And while his use of Latin music might be considered ethnically determined. cultural and generic borders. (1985). since the musical discourse in Wong's films can be at once modern and classical. and Adorno. it provides information to the spectator and helps establish historical. film music is employed to aid our immersion into the diegetic illusion by suggesting an emotional atmosphere. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. and Altman. even though the use of Latin American songs might be historically authentic in a film like In The Mood for Love or Days of Being Wild. The Sounds of Early Cinema. (1994). L'image-temps: cinima 2. (1971). Chion. Eisler. Paris: Les M•ditions de Minuit. Therefore. R. Culturally. (1999). La musique au cingma. it creates both movement-images and time-images. T. (1995). it represents Wong's own creative vision of 'past-ness' as a stylistic creation. Lefilm: saforme. commercial and experimental. I have argued that the music in Wong's films has much more important functions than to simply 'accompany' or 'illustrate' what is being represented on the screen. Wong's use of film music seems to be situated in the middle of the duality between the classical mode of film accompaniment and a modern approach where music is no longer subjected to the image. G. (2001). (1976). son sens. ethnic and geographical settings. Bourgeois. it does not represent the clich6 or the cultural code normally related to it but. (2001). it bonds shot to shot. What should have become evident at this point is that these characteristics are not mutually exclusive. Wong is actively establishing relations that surpass national. it is also used to create an atmosphere of saturation where it is the music that sets the pace. for actually they coexist in a structure where one does not signify without the other. London: Tauris. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. As these well-known songs signify different things for different cultures. In fact. Allinson. G. A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almod6var.Y. R. R. it is also used to challenge and subvert our expectations of cinematic genres. L'image-mouvement: cin6ma 1.degree of heterogeneity of the references affecting the films. H. Audio-vision: Sound on Screen. Narratively. M.: Books for Libraries Press. Eisenstein. N. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Traditionally. Paris: C. creates point of view and builds character's identities. (1983). B. (1991). New York: Columbia University Press. to the point where they defy simple cultural labels. Freeport. Works cited Abel. New York: Columbia University Press. 208 Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho . S. New York: Verso. Paris: Fayard. London.

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doi: 10. thanks to a grant from the CAPES Foundation from Brazil.1386/jcc. Canada. candidate at the University of Montreal. E-mail: lud2046@hotmail. Pavillon Lionel-Groulx. Comparative Literature Department. Film. Directed by Eric ROHMER. 3150 jean-Brillant. 197-210. QC. Directed by WONG Kar-wai. (2008).3. Suggested citation de Carvalho.197/1 Contributor details Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho has a Masters Degree in Communication and Contemporary Cultures from the Federal University of Bahia. Montreal. Film. Directed by SUZUKI Seijun. Six Days (2002). 1969). where she is developing her thesis on Wong's cinema. She is currently a Ph.2. M. L. Japan: Genjiro Amato Pictures. 'Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai'. Contact: University of Montreal.D. Canada. pp.com 210 Ludmila Moreira Macedo de Carvalho . M. France: FFD. Brazil.My Night At Maud's (Ma nuit chez Maud. Music Video. H3T 1N8. Yumeji (1991).Journal of Chinese Cinemas 2: 3.

To contact the publisher: http://www.COPYRIGHT INFORMATION TITLE: Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai SOURCE: J Chin Cinemas 2 no3 2008 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission.co.uk/journals.intellectbooks. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.php?issn=17508061 .

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