Light Fantastic: Dancing in the Films of Wong Kar-wai

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Six ways the renowned director utilizes nonverbal, intentional expression.

When it comes to expression, there are really only so many routes one can go. There are verbal expressions, of course – talking, screaming, singing – nonverbal expressions and other subconscious indicators like emotion and body language, and then there are nonverbal but intentional expressions, the things we do on purpose to convey what we can’t, won’t, or don’t want to say: hugs and other shows of affection, violence, sex, and displays of happiness like dancing.

In the films of revered director Wong Kar-wai, the lattermost of that list is employed quite often and for a variety of reasons and narrative purposes. In the following audiovisual essay from FilmStillLives, dance in Wong’s filmography is examined and revealed to have six functions: as a form of self-expression, as a form of self-interrogation, as the elaboration of a relationship, as a thematic and performative event, as the pivot in the director’s open-ended filmmaking process, and as collaboration with his actors to communicate ideas of global identity.

As the essayist states in their introduction:

A kind of test case, this piece is my attempt to work through my long-standing fascination with several extra/diegetic sequences of dance found in several Wong Kar-wai films and outtakes into a mode of analysis of some of Wong’s more prevalent themes, mainly cross-cultural, cosmopolitan movement, encounters, and identities.

Wong Kar-wai is without question one of the top filmmakers working in the world today – on my personal list he comes in at number three behind David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson – and it is his ability as a visual storyteller that makes him so. More than a lot of directors, Wong doesn’t just employ nonverbal communication, he relies on it to get into those facets of being human that don’t have a voice and to extract the instinctive rhythms between people that don’t translate into speech. This is a beautiful and elegant look at one way he does this, as well as an homage to the power of intentionally-nonverbal expression.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist