Love in ruins: Spectral bodies in Wong Kar-wai's in the mood for love

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RECENT POPULAR INTEREST in Hong Kong's art cinema has been met by a critical admonition from Western film academics to consider the ethics of cross-cultural spectatorship, in particular in the context of international film festival circulation and reception. While some attempts have been made to consider the place of these films in the lives of diasporic Chinese viewers, far fewer inquiries into an ethics of ethnic spectatorship have been engaged; that is, almost no one has challenged the claims for either a self-evident "Chinese gaze" or Chinese identity in existing conceptions of embodied spectatorship.2 This essay joins these debates by proposing an inhabitable, ethnically marked, and ethically engaged position from which to view Hong Kong art cinema, specifically from a diasporic Chinese perspective. I use the figure of the specter-something neither simply disappearing nor wholly material-to challenge existing notions of embodied spectatorship so as to consider how we might conceive of the body in recent Hong Kong art cinema. This body can no longer be regarded as a dependable marker of identity, whole and fully present, since Chineseness also appears today in increasingly fragmented forms tied to diasporic experience. In considering the spectatorship for this cinema, what emerges as the most difficult and perhaps the most pressing issue is how to conceive of an ethical diasporic Chinese viewing position out of the impossibility of rooted Chineseness. I will use the film In the Mood for Love to describe how a theory of spectatorship might be formed through rehearsals of and for viewing, just as this film, like others in Wong's oeuvre, are rehearsals of and for love. The lines quoted at the beginning of this chapter appear as an epilogue to the film. They speak to the question of how we are to conceive the bodies on the screen in recent Hong Kong art cinema, and whether we can respond, in an embodied sense, to figures that are vanishing, distant, and far from touch. The epilogue resonates with an article by Laura U. Marks entitled "Loving a Disappearing Image" in which Marks discusses the photographic theory of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida, and in particular his use of the Wintergarden photograph as an affective pivot for the book. Marks suggests that "the very blurriness and illegibility of the photograph ⋯ may aid the process of memory."3 This is because such an image, a "disappearing" image, invites a look that is haptic, that "uses the eye like an organ of touch."4 Marks' argument engages with literally disappearing images, such as when the emulsion on a piece of film starts bleeding or when a videotape begins to decay. The important point that she makes, however, is that love plays an integral part in how we might view these images. According to Marks, we respond to these situations of "loving a disappearing image" with a sense of loss and a premonition of our own disappearance.5 Love is crucial in understanding how we as spectators fall for certain images on the screen, and this is particularly important in a theory of ethnic spectatorship.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmbodied Modernities
Subtitle of host publicationCorporeality, Representation, and Chinese Cultures
PublisherUniversity of Hawai‘i Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)0824829638, 9780824829636
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

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