Martin Scorsese‘s Mean Streets set a new standard for the integration of music in film (though Scorsese would be quick to acknowledge the influence of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising). Chinese director Wong Kar-wai is also known for the way he uses music to set the mood in his elegiac stories of lovers struggling to find satisfying narratives for their shifting memories of past relationships (his aesthetic owes a lot to French directors like Alain Resnais who emphasized the vague of Nouvelle Vague, which is usually translated as New Wave). So it seems fitting that Wong’s first film, As Tears Go By, is basically a Hong Kong remake of Mean Streets.*
As Tears Go By was also my introduction to Asian pop music. I recognized the tune of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” of course, even though Sandy Lam (Lam Yik Lin) was singing in Cantonese. But I laughed at the incongruity when she suddenly switched to English for the refrain:
Only later would I learn that random English phrases are common in Asian pop.
Although Faye Wong is a very big Chinese pop star, one of the most memorable scenes from Chungking Express is her dancing to someone else’s music, the Mamas and the Papas singing “California Dreaming”:
The Flying Pickets’ a cappella cover of Yaz‘s (Yazoo in the UK) “Only You” provides the perfect coda for Fallen Angels:
It’s no surprise that Wong’s use of music in his films would lead to musicians asking him to add film to their music. His video for DJ Shadow‘s “Six Days” continues to explore the auteur’s theme of the futility of trying to remember to forget:
In Happy Together, two troubled Chinese lovers try to start over in Argentina. Astor Piazzolla‘s tango music accompanies their sad dance:
BMW hired numerous renowned director for their promotional series, The Hire, all starring Clive Owen as a professional driver. Wong’s The Follow featured Cecilia Noel‘s beautiful rendition of Silvio Rodriguez’s “Unicornio”:
* I have always felt that Scorsese returned the homage in Bringing Out the Dead, which adopts the visual aesthetic Wong Kar-wai developed with cinematographer Christopher Doyle.