FILM REVIEW | LIKE THE WIND
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i was made aware of the widely-revered AUSTRALIAN CINEMATOGRAPHER CHRISTOPHER DOYLE while taking a film elective sophomore year of high school. it was a cinema appreciation class where an english teacher at the boarding school i was attending in MASSACHUSETTS essentially had students watch his personal favorite films, things like BILLY WILDER's SOME LIKE IT HOT (UNITED ARTISTS, 1959), INGMAR BERGMAN's WILD STRAWBERRIES (AB SVENSK, 1957), ORSON WELLES' CITIZEN KANE (RKO, 1941), MICHAEL CURTIZ' CASABLANCA (WARNER BROS, 1942), ROBERT WISE's WEST SIDE STORY (UNITED ARTISTS, 1961) and so on.
it was in this educational context that i found myself absolutely floored by the EMOTIONALLY EVOCATIVE look, tone and feel of the VISUAL ARTISTRY present in WONG-KAR WAI's CELEBRATED film CHUNKING EXPRESS (JET TONE, 1994). to me that movie felt like a love letter to all things HONG KONG, the tight-knit VIBRANCY of its PEOPLE, the FOOD, the ARCHITECTURE. despite the seeming OVERWHELMING scale at play in describing a city of that scale, it is an INTIMATE portrayal of young people navigating their way through the narrative of their personal lives, an internal geography just as complicated as HONG KONG itself. that INTIMACY is due to the uniquely LYRICAL nature of DOYLE's COMPOSITIONAL and TECHNICAL DECISIONS regarding his craft that come from a place of EMPATHY and RISK-TAKING on set.
as DOYLE himself explains during an interview in the recent documentary concerning his career, LIKE THE WIND (PINNACLE FILM & MEDIA, 2021), his goal is to manifest "what is intended as opposed to whats written." there is a near infinite ways in which a scene can play out on camera that require an unspoken collaboration between the subject and the artist, the actor and the cinematographer. UNSCHOOLED, UNBIASED and verifiably UNSHACKLED by CINEMATIC CONVENTION given his unique background as a transient AUSTRALIAN that left his homeland to discover adventure and artistic nourishment in CHINESE culture first in TAIPEI and later HONG KONG. given his lack of cinematographic training and status as a foreigner working in the greater CHINESE film industry, his PERSPECTIVE and CHOICES regarding use of LIGHTING, SHUTTER SPEED, MOVEMENT, ANGLE and so on is completely SINGULAR unto himself. that JOY and EXUBERANCE in the EXPERIMENTATION and familial TRUST between collaborators is what makes his films work. and utterly UNIQUE relative to HOLLYWOOD projects. it is why he was unable to find a similar artistic voice when called upon by WESTERN directors; the process was different and the scale and occupational stratification of the crew bogged the process down.
the nearest analogue i can find to DOYLE is the director JULIAN SCHNABEL (BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, BASQUIAT, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) who was a RENOWNED painter before he got behind the lens and has a similarly EPHEMERAL and highly LYRICAL VISUAL STYLE and VOCABULARY. for SCHNABEL, if something works on camera he is aware of it immediately. if not, like DOYLE, he makes other choices in the moment until it works and showcases an EMOTIONAL TRUTH that was intended but UNSPOKEN in the script.
LIKE THE WIND very much gets at that STRANGE dynamic whereby it takes the creative efforts of a foreigner to make art that is truly LOCAL and NATIVE to its environment. reminds me of what E.B. WHITE once said about there being three NEW YORKS:
"There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.
in essence there is no verifiably TRUE or AUTHENTIC anything. all PERSPECTIVES regarding a culture or location are equally VALID. sometimes it takes some distance to truly appreciate what is in front of oneself by someone who is less emotionally connected or familiar it on a daily basis. such acknowledged distance from his subject and the COURAGE to implement a vision and perspective regarding such is DOYLE's gift to HONG KONG and by extension WORLD CINEMATIC CULTURE, as much as he seemingly despises such accolades.