World of Wong Kar Wai

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Mr Sausage
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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#851 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Apr 12, 2021 4:18 pm

(I’ve always appreciated your sober, technically knowledgable contributions to transfer and restoration discussions, tenia, lest you think my previous post was unfairly sweeping you away with everything else)

Your Autumn Sonata example reminds me of the Memories of Murder controversy, specifically the possibility raised that the Criterion grade everyone hates might actually be closer to the original colour timing than the brighter version everyone fell in love with.

So what happens when a transfer or grading mistake is aesthetically better than the original intention?

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#852 Post by soundchaser » Mon Apr 12, 2021 4:37 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
Mon Apr 12, 2021 4:18 pm
So what happens when a transfer or grading mistake is aesthetically better than the original intention?
There's a discussion happening in the Warner Archive thread that touches on similar issues. Robert Harris is claiming that the transfer on The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex Blu-Ray is graded in a way that doesn't match the original Technicolor nitrate prints, but the later safety prints. Whether he's right or not is sort of secondary to the fact that this print is just plain ugly to me - much closer to Technicolor III than the glorious tones we associate with Technicolor IV. His claim is that audiences wouldn't accept the look (in the 60s or now), and I don't disagree with him there, because...well, I'm skeptical of it myself!

All of which is to say: you raise a tricky point. And I'll admit it does puncture my argument a bit when tough situations arise like this without the presence of an auteur making changes after the fact.

(I hope that's not too tangential - I may not be explaining myself very well, but the two threads feel connected in my head right now.)

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#853 Post by tenia » Mon Apr 12, 2021 4:38 pm


Mr Sausage wrote:(I’ve always appreciated your sober, technically knowledgable contributions to transfer and restoration discussions, tenia, lest you think my previous post was unfairly sweeping you away with everything else)
No problem here don't worry, I'm just explaining where my worries are stemming from precisely. :)

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#854 Post by senseabove » Mon Apr 12, 2021 5:24 pm

soundchaser wrote:
Mon Apr 12, 2021 4:14 pm
If you could make this cost slightly less than a purebred dog, I'd be all over it.
Palgrave had a very big sale a while back and I picked it up for $10. I believe they've had one or two like it since that one, so it might be worth signing up for a mailing list.

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World of Wong Kar Wai

#855 Post by MichaelB » Mon Apr 12, 2021 5:39 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:So what happens when a transfer or grading mistake is aesthetically better than the original intention?
Peter Hannan, the cinematographer of Withnail & I, believes that the recent Arrow restoration is much closer to his original intentions than any of the 1980s 35mm release prints, because post-production and grading had been rushed thanks to them running out of money. The information he needed was there in the negative, but it wasn’t until he had the chance to give it another go that he felt that he’d got it right.

And Phil Meheux also fixed two technical flubs in Arrow’s The Long Good Friday that he’d certainly have corrected at the time (one shot was badly affected by the sun going behind a cloud at a crucial moment, but it wasn’t logistically possible to reshoot), but he needed digital technology that hadn’t been invented then.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#856 Post by senseabove » Mon Apr 12, 2021 6:48 pm

And I don't think there needs to or can be hard-and-fast rules about what is and is not "allowed" or "good". MichaelB's examples are interesting and instructive ones, and there is a whooooole lot of defining that needs to done to even approach the question of "what happens when a transfer or grading mistake is aesthetically better than the original intention?" I could see an argument that the purported yellow tint of E&E's original theatrical print is akin to the Ritrovata push today: an ill-advised decision that has nothing to do with the choices of Curtiz, Cinematographer Sol Polito, and Art Director Anton Grot, since it sounds like Harris is saying the OCN is closer to the natural palette of this new release. Which is more important to preserve, audience experience, from a historical perspective, or presumed intent, from an artistic perspective? I don't claim to have a one-size-fits-all answer beyond "both, whenever possible." But (and I quote you, Sausage, not to be antagonistic, but because it's so succinctly stated) "the ‘real’ original has become a phantom" is not a principle I'm willing to seriously entertain anywhere near the archive, however interesting it is in the lecture hall. My Derrida and Benjamin rest on the shelf right right above my film history shelves, but it's a separate shelf (and pretty dusty one, I confess, indicative of where my interests are these days).

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#857 Post by Marlew » Tue Apr 13, 2021 3:49 am

I'm new here but very much enjoyed reading this thread. I understand and largely agree with the reasoning and principles but as someone for whom WKW (and DoBW & CE, in particular) was a life-changing gateway seventeen years ago, I feel oddly comfortable with these decisions.

A large part of that is the simple fact of having the originals on m shelf in most cases, but I'm also genuinely interested in how he wants to present the work in 2021. I highly doubt I will prefer the new versions of ITMFL, FA and CE (which I'm most familiar with on BD) but I'm looking forward to seeing another perspective on them. If I definitively prefer the original, that's likely what I'll watch in future.

Apologies if this is a reductive or selfish perspective. I don't see this as part of a broader revisionist decline, either. In fact, I consider it quite anomalous. The overwhelming majority of releases I've experienced across various labels are very faithful, respectful, impassioned upgrades. I won't get exactly what I wanted but I'm still excited to watch whatever it will be (in about six weeks, I'm in the UK!).

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#858 Post by Black Hat » Tue Apr 13, 2021 8:08 pm

I feel like I'm nowhere near closer to to deciding whether I should get the set or not. Maybe I should start playing scratch offs so I could justify spending the money, but really, the alternate path seems to be the way to go, or wait and see what happens down the line. Either way I feel like this whole thing is pretty shitty and while I can somewhat get behind the forward thinking aspect of WKW's argument, him, his people & Criterion should have an understanding of how much this kinda shit bothers their core fanbase of nerds and perhaps, maybe, come off a little less defiant to the people whose earnestness drives the success of everyone's careers.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#859 Post by hearthesilence » Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:25 pm

Honestly, if you've never seen these films before, this box is an easy and serviceable way of diving in. I think of it this way - there was a long time when I watched all my movies on VHS or broadcast on a CRT TV, and it was a long time before my family got either a DVD player or an HDTV. (I think I was the last one of my friends to get either in their home.) You can be damn sure that most of those transfers weren't nearly as "good" as the ones on this box set.

But I only need two more titles, neither of which I'm completely sold on anyway (and one of which I've seen projected from a 35mm print - didn't even love it then), so I'm fine skipping this set.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#860 Post by Number Forty-Eight » Wed Apr 14, 2021 2:12 am

Weren't those films released in theaters with burned in dual subtitles? That's the original presentation, like it is on the extra DOBW.

Any presentation of those films (and most of the old HK films) without the burned subs complete with english typo errors is already revisionism.

The dual subs, wildly fluctuating colors schemes, and bad mono mixes with wrong levels all over the place were part of the exotica and the attraction. So once removed, what you have left is already a revision. In the case of the old CC transfers, you have the films baked into 00 video technology, now they are adjusted to 2020 tech.

At least old versions like As Tears Go By upscaled Blu-ray from HK, keep the old color schemes give or take the limitations. What I really object is removal of blanket blue tints, that remove some of the films era character in a try to make them look modern.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#861 Post by MichaelB » Wed Apr 14, 2021 3:24 am

The problem with that argument is that it assumes that the filmmaker actually wanted that treatment, as opposed to having to tolerate it as standard practice.

See also Ken Russell’s Elgar - should the BFI have released it at a sub-SD resolution, reflecting the capability of televisions in 1962? But Russell shot it in 35mm and would undoubtedly have much preferred something closer to that, if it had been technically possible.

Anyway, as it happens, I’ve never seen a WKW film with crappy HK subtitles - for some reason they were given proper ones on their UK release from the get-go.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#862 Post by tenia » Wed Apr 14, 2021 3:57 am

Yes, I think this is misunderstanding original presentation as in "burnt in dual subs and damaged reels included" with "without modern alterations".

Because again, I think the issue isn't so much that all these may not be perfectly transparent to the sources (which would need being able to 100% define what the center of the target is) but that we're 100% they're not hitting this center. I don't know all that's needed for my car to be functioning in an optimal fashion, but I can say for sure something's wrong when it doesn't start.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#863 Post by MichaelB » Wed Apr 14, 2021 4:37 am

Although this has reminded me of the way that the Czech National Film Archive quixotically includes reel-change markers in their restorations, because their policy is to present the film exactly as it appeared at the world premiere.

As a 35mm nostalgist, I rather like that, but I can see why others are less keen - not least because in an original-neg-sourced restoration, the reel-change markers wouldn't have been present, so they've presumably been added digitally.

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World of Wong Kar Wai

#864 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Apr 14, 2021 9:30 am

Seems like the classical music argument about whether to use old, historical instruments or not. Do you preserve what audiences actually heard on the music’s premiere, or do you understand the composer to’ve been writing not for the specific instruments of the time, but for the ideal instruments in their head, and use modern instruments whose sounds the composer would’ve undoubtably preferred?

But then the logic here and in MichaelB’s post only needs a bit of extension to lead to the revisionism most everyone here deplores, so...*shrugs*.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#865 Post by MichaelB » Wed Apr 14, 2021 10:15 am

I suppose another good example is The Conversation, whose 5.1 mix isn't remotely authentic to the original release (which was plain mono, like 99% of other films of the time), but which was overseen by Walter Murch himself and unquestionably reflects what he would have done back in 1974 if only he'd had the technology - ironically, technology that he would help develop a few years later. Although the StudioCanal BD includes the original mono track as well, so in theory everyone should be happy.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#866 Post by Black Hat » Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:15 am

hearthesilence wrote:
Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:25 pm
Honestly, if you've never seen these films before, this box is an easy and serviceable way of diving in. I think of it this way - there was a long time when I watched all my movies on VHS or broadcast on a CRT TV, and it was a long time before my family got either a DVD player or an HDTV. (I think I was the last one of my friends to get either in their home.) You can be damn sure that most of those transfers weren't nearly as "good" as the ones on this box set.

But I only need two more titles, neither of which I'm completely sold on anyway (and one of which I've seen projected from a 35mm print - didn't even love it then), so I'm fine skipping this set.
Yeah, I get what you're saying and agree. My issue really is more about the sense I'm getting here that Criterion knows their core fanbase are going to be customers no matter and are treating their concerns, which are legitimate, that way. They could do what they want, but making the nerds feel like they're a part of their company's mission instead of saying 'this is the way we're doing it and if you don't get that, tough shit', seems to be a better approach.
Last edited by Black Hat on Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#867 Post by Drucker » Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:16 am

To reiterate my feeling, I have no objection to an artist making adjustments to their work. But given that these restorations will become the de facto versions, and alternatives will be increasingly unavailable (look at how much the Kinos are fetching on Ebay), it's unfortunate that they will be the only editions in circulation on streaming platforms and repertory cinemas. Blade Runner's alternative cuts are available on blu-ray, but Ridley Scott explicitly forbids any version but the Final Cut to be shown theatrically. And obviously Lucas has made it impossible to see the originals.

That's where my frustration stems from. Kar Wai has explicitly stated that he made adjustments to the films. Before home video one would be bound by the limitations of quality of prints made available to theaters. That limitation doesn't need to exist anymore, it's a choice made by Criterion and/or Wong Kar Wai.

Given that they've included multiple cuts of plenty of films (Mr. Arkadin, Tree of Life and The New World), there is precedent for them to make theatrical presentations available.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#868 Post by Black Hat » Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:21 am

Drucker wrote:
Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:16 am
To reiterate my feeling, I have no objection to an artist making adjustments to their work. But given that these restorations will become the de facto versions, and alternatives will be increasingly unavailable (look at how much the Kinos are fetching on Ebay), it's unfortunate that they will be the only editions in circulation on streaming platforms and repertory cinemas. Blade Runner's alternative cuts are available on blu-ray, but Ridley Scott explicitly forbids any version but the Final Cut to be shown theatrically. And obviously Lucas has made it impossible to see the originals.

That's where my frustration stems from. Kar Wai has explicitly stated that he made adjustments to the films. Before home video one would be bound by the limitations of quality of prints made available to theaters. That limitation doesn't need to exist anymore, it's a choice made by Criterion and/or Wong Kar Wai.

Given that they've included multiple cuts of plenty of films (Mr. Arkadin, Tree of Life and The New World), there is precedent for them to make theatrical presentations available.
Right? WKW wouldn't be in the position to do this were it not for all the people who loved and supported his work in its original form. Boggles my mind how nobody involved here has acknowledged this. Something as banal as "Hey thanks for all the love that's let me get to this point so please trust me on this choice." would go a long way. Instead, it seems like the people who have reacted with 'wtf' are being treated as if they're the crazy people.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#869 Post by Finch » Wed Apr 14, 2021 2:05 pm

It's also curious that few reviewers seem to want to engage with the changes critically. Even Slant are merely acknowledging the changes except noting that in the case of Fallen Angels they are significant. Reviewers either rehash WKW's justification (I'm so sick of this "No man steps in the same river twice" crap by now) or quote this misinformation about the aspect ratios of some of the films. I find it hard to imagine that every single critic is either okay with the changes or doesn't mind them enough to at least argue that the originals should have been included. I honestly dread that this thing will end up in the Beaver contributors' Top Ten Blu-Ray releases for 2021 and thereby giving the restorations more legitimacy.

Chris, would you have rated the new restoration of In The Mood For Love higher if the green tint wasn't present and the grain not reduced by as much as it has been?

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#870 Post by cdnchris » Wed Apr 14, 2021 2:14 pm


Finch wrote: Chris, would you have rated the new restoration of In The Mood For Love higher if the green tint wasn't present and the grain not reduced by as much as it has been?
Grain? Yes. Green? Maybe...



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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#871 Post by senseabove » Wed Apr 14, 2021 3:43 pm

MichaelB wrote:
Wed Apr 14, 2021 10:15 am
I suppose another good example is The Conversation, whose 5.1 mix isn't remotely authentic to the original release (which was plain mono, like 99% of other films of the time), but which was overseen by Walter Murch himself and unquestionably reflects what he would have done back in 1974 if only he'd had the technology - ironically, technology that he would help develop a few years later. Although the StudioCanal BD includes the original mono track as well, so in theory everyone should be happy.
Seeing Portrait of Jennie on nitrate was the single theatrical experience I was saddest about missing out on due to the pandemic, but now that the Nitrate Picture Show has announced that they're just pushing their 2020 programming to 2022 so I'll still get that opportunity, the one I lament most now is seeing The Conversation from an original theatrical print followed a few days later by a newly struck 35mm print with the surround remix. Would've been a fascinating comparison!

senseabove wrote:
Mon Apr 12, 2021 6:48 pm
"the ‘real’ original has become a phantom" is not a principle I'm willing to seriously entertain anywhere near the archive, however interesting it is in the lecture hall.
Circling back to this to clarify why I reacted so strongly: while I understand and, reservedly, acknowledge that it's true, in the context of this particular conversation it read like lol_nothing_matters.gif. Acknowledging that previous releases are also/just as/more flawed, that artists have always tinkered after the fact, that perception is subjective and memory is fallible, etc., and thinking about what those things mean for archivists in general, film restoration in particular, and these films especially, is necessary. But it's possible to acknowledge the complexities and inexactness of restoration without despairing of some ineffable lost original and accepting cropped, anamorphed, radically altered "restorations" as the artist's prerogative. Yes, someone can fall in love with a movie despite first experiencing it on a crappy PAL->NTSC DVD-R replete with scan lines and engrish subs from a Chinatown boot shop. That doesn't mean film restoration is meaningless, rudderless, or futile, or that we should resign ourselves with obsequious thanks to whatever scraps we movie lovers can get.

Anyway, this clarification sponsored by this NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program thesis on the "History and Ethics of Film Restoration".

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#872 Post by tenia » Wed Apr 14, 2021 5:24 pm


Finch wrote:It's also curious that few reviewers seem to want to engage with the changes critically. Even Slant are merely acknowledging the changes except noting that in the case of Fallen Angels they are significant. Reviewers either rehash WKW's justification (I'm so sick of this "No man steps in the same river twice" crap by now) or quote this misinformation about the aspect ratios of some of the films. I find it hard to imagine that every single critic is either okay with the changes or doesn't mind them enough to at least argue that the originals should have been included.
That's just sadly the overall state of home video reviewers.

There probably are more of them rehashing the PR non-sense about Chungking and ITMFL finally being in 1.66 for home video than the ones trying to at least list more extensively the differences. Fallen Angels get mentioned the most simply because the changes are so obvious you can't miss them and cannot not mention them. But how many reviews mention the opening credits change of Chungking and its music change ? The new green tint of ITMFL ? Exactly what's cut in those missing monologues in Happy Together ? The design alterations of 2046 ?

It's highly likely not a single reviewer did what cowboydan did.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#873 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Apr 14, 2021 5:56 pm

senseabove wrote:That doesn't mean film restoration is meaningless, rudderless, or futile, or that we should resign ourselves with obsequious thanks to whatever scraps we movie lovers can get.
Who are you directing this at? The nobody in this thread who disagrees? You're persecuting the choir.

senseabove wrote:Circling back to this to clarify why I reacted so strongly: while I understand and, reservedly, acknowledge that it's true, in the context of this particular conversation it read like lol_nothing_matters.gif.
In the context of my post, the line about the originals becoming phantoms was the end result of musings on the effect of 4K scans and restorations and the way they kind of reverse the temporal process, becoming prior to the thing they are drawn from and meant to preserve (rather like how a generalization from specific phenomena comes to seem prior to the phenomena it was derived from). It was impersonal analysis. It wasn't telling anyone how to feel about it.

You reacted strongly because you ripped that one sentence from its context and then inadvisably treated it not only as: A. a general principle, but B. my personal general principle that I am recommending everyone share. This despite the last paragraph of my post going on to qualify my personal position as: that the most I am is ambivalent, and that the originals are only "kind of a phantom". Hardly a driving ethos.

Could you lay off? I don't need to come in here to discuss tangential philosophical issues or provide historical examples of revisionism from other arts and have you come at me every time for advocating nihilism or trying to destroy archival practise or whatever else you might come up with in your overexcitement. I get that the people you really want to scream at aren't here, but I'm an inappropriate and very unwilling consolation target.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#874 Post by senseabove » Wed Apr 14, 2021 6:28 pm

Sorry, Sausage. I wasn't trying to make you my punching bag, nor was I intending to "target" you or anyone. I was (sure, over-)reacting to several posts in the conversation, including ones from the last page by jegharfangetmigenmyg, barbarella satyricon, you, tenia, and MicahelB, to name a few, and I pulled your particular phrasing because it was a succinct and extreme expression of them.

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Re: World of Wong Kar Wai

#875 Post by tasa » Wed Apr 14, 2021 6:31 pm

tenia wrote:
Wed Apr 14, 2021 5:24 pm
The new green tint of ITMFL ?
I thought it would be interesting to note that this same green tint appears to be on the 2013 Kadokawa release of ITMFL. That release was director-approved and, funny enough, was cropped to have an AR around 1.85:1 or so. While it's not new, this doesn't change your point however (or even justify the new presentation).

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