At this point of the bleak midwinter, you’ve made your way through the entire Netflix catalogue (there’s only so many ‘Witty Films with a Strong Female Lead Based on a Book’ you can handle) and are looking for a different, more varied streaming experience. With that in mind, let me guide you through some lesser known movie streaming sites, taking you through what you can watch in your free 30 day trial membership and beyond. We start with Mubi, the curated art and classic film site.
At this point, a brief description of how Mubi works. Every day, they introduce a new curated classic, arthouse or foreign film curated by their team, and you have thirty days to watch it. This means at any time there are thirty films on Mubi, from directors both new and familiar from across the world. Right now, the service features films from directors including Guy Maddin, Chantal Akerman, yesterday’s choice Wes Anderson, and today’s choice, celebrated Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai.
How these films are chosen is a closely guarded secret of the Mubi minions (not to be confused with the minions the closest child to you has been infuriating you with for the last year). Sometimes they are other films by directors currently with new work out, sometimes they seem almost random, and at others they are cultivated towards the season. At the beginning of this new year, it is a season of debut features continuing today with As Tears Go By.
As I wrote yesterday, directors’ debuts are fascinating for the transitional period they show auteurs in. Their own visual style is there in embryo form, but is mixed in with the hero worship of those who came before.
Wai’s As Tears Go By is a perfect example of this. Wai-isms can be seen, but they are filtered through a whole lot of Hollywood in general, New Hollywood in particular and Scorsese specifically. Our leads (spoilers) are gunned down in full-on Bonnie and Clyde slow motion. Wah’s (Andy Lau) main love interest Ngor (Maggie Cheung) is definitely a graduate of the Kay from the Godfather School for Mob Girlfriends and Wives. Fly (Jackie Cheung) even gives his version of Marlon Brando‘s ‘I coulda been a contender’ speech. The whole film is to Hong Kong as Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver are to New York.
That Hong Kong influence is crucial in Wai later becoming an auteur in his own right. Its streets have their own murky majestic, equal parts brutality and Blade Runner, and the director uses this unique feel to set himself apart from lesser filmmakers. Mob confrontations occur around mah-jong games, and Fly is degraded with that specific East Asian punishment, being made to run an unlicensed fish balls store.
Aside from the location work, the film features shots that would sum up his career perfectly. The opening credits are shown over a bank of TVs glowing over a typical HK street. On these TVs, footage of clouds slowly floating across a sky. In that image, all the themes of Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece, In the Mood for Love.
Fittingly, though, this feels like separate part of the film (at the most, Ngor is the clouds to Wah’s dirty city, though even a first year film school student might balk at this stretching of imagery). This is As Tears Go By in a nutshell (or perhaps in a fish ball) – all the pieces are there, but they do not quite fit together, and some of the piece clearly belong to another director’s puzzle. Despite some bravura action set pieces like a mobster putting a gun in Wah’s pants and kicking it to try and set it off, Wong Kar Wei was meant for different, more emotionally resonant things…