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The cinema of Wong Kar-wai: style, form and narrative meaning

Bettinson, Gary (2006) The cinema of Wong Kar-wai: style, form and narrative meaning. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94207) (KAR id:94207)

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The following study provides detailed critical analyses of several films by Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar-wai. These analyses centre most broadly upon the organisational principles that underpin Wong’s stylistic and narrative systems, and examine how such intentional strategies function to generate narrative meaning and elicit particular responses from the spectator. In reaction to a body of criticism that subsumes the textual features of Wong’s cinema to an overarching socio-allegorical framework, this study concentrates analysis principally upon the immediate, filmic ‘surface’ of the films, i.e. their primary materials of style, plot, and character. To this end, the project aims to show that allegorical interpretations are not the only means by which to disclose the richness and complexity of Wong’s cinema. By attending to specifically textual features, moreover, the project seeks to situate Wong’s formal procedures within demonstrable modes and traditions. Analysing the films’ style, form, and narrative meaning therefore points us toward the key historical and cultural factors that bear most pertinently upon Wong’s cinema.

Collectively, the main chapters serve to tackle some broad critical assumptions pertaining to Wong’s oeuvre - for example, the critical perspective that casts Wong as a pure aesthete, preoccupied exclusively with stylistic sensuousness. A corollary assumption - that the erotic texture of the work ‘seduces’ the spectator into critical passivity - is also explicitly challenged throughout the chapters that follow. This study argues that, though Wong’s films indeed furnish a palpable and sensual audio-visual design, they are not reducible exclusively to this aesthetic principle; often we find that stylistic sensuousness is explicable at the level of story action. The chapters in this study also contend that Wong’s spectator, far from being seduced away from critical reasoning, is routinely challenged by textual strategies that undercut the films’ sensuous style and jolt the viewer from her habitual modes of perception.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Smith, Murray
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94207
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2022 13:12 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2023 15:18 UTC
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