Fat Cat Plankton

Nonsense in extensia

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

One Faye Wong Fan Can't Be Wrong

Lauren's studying Asian cinema this summer semester, and I've tried to watch as many of the films as possible with her. Our latest is Chungking Express, an oddly structured, typically madcap mid-90s Hong Kong romantic comedy presented in the US by Quentin Tarantino’s production company, Rolling Thunder. In his little informational postscript after the film, Quentin mentions that, unbeknownst to me, Chungking’s lead actress Faye Wong is a major pop star in her native country – Tarantino calls her Hong Kong’s equivalent to Madonna. While I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that statement, I can report to the uninformed that Faye Wong makes some truly gripping, genuinely evocative music, and is certainly more than deserving of whatever celebrity she enjoys overseas.

Of course, Quentin had to throw in the aside that just about every guy he knows who’s seen Chungking has developed a crush on Faye Wong, and so now Lauren thinks I’m smitten with her ‘cause of how quickly I went out in search of her music – just doin’ my job, y’know? Truth be told, I didn’t find Faye’s character in the film terribly appealing – her performance was quite good, but her subject was just a little too self-consciously quirky and purposefully enigmatic to be truly likable. Maybe it’s just Hong Kong’s own peculiar roadmap for romance, but personally I found the love tussle just plain wearying in its nonsensical restraint and forced irresolution (though the film itself proved undeniably delightful, especially for how it tackled well-trodden themes like loneliness and courtship in such unexpected and offbeat ways).

Faye Wong’s music, however, is another matter. In short, it’s great, at least judging from the one album I heard, 2000’s Fable. Faye has collaborated with the Cocteau Twins in the past, and their influence/kindred spirit is evident in her vocals, though hers are much more entrancing and suggestive than Liz Fraser’s, plus the music is nowhere near as gossamer or ephemeral. For the most part it’s reminiscent of trip-hop, the real shit too, not the thin Dido facsimile. This stuff is deep and substantial and expansive, and Faye goes heavy on the orchestras to boot, very Bjork-like in how she dispenses them (think “Isobel), often trailing behind and repeating the melody, especially on “Farewell Firefly.” The first five songs lull you into mellow, contemplative meditation, then Faye hits you square between the eyes with giddy, irrepressible perfection on “If You Were Unreal,” one of the sweetest, greatest pure pop songs I’ve heard in some time. Listening to it right now as I type makes me so retardedly happy I don’t know whether to smile, laugh, or cry.

Postscript -

It's such an eye-opening joy driving at night listening to music where you don't understand any of the words, just for how it makes you notice and marvel at surroundings you always take for granted. English-speaking tunes just fit so comfortably into the roadside scenery that they naturally become a part of it, hearing on our radios the same words that peer back at us from gas stations, billboards, and street signs. The normalcy of everything that meets the eye is constantly reinforced through the music, creating an isolationist mindset that never conceives of any other way. With Faye Wong angelically cooing God-knows-what over surprisingly sturdy trip-hop beats, the world outside the windshield takes on a markedly different hue. Her voice is clearer, purer, and truer than any all-night neon buzzing, so that everything in that brightly blurring landscape starts to feel alien, unimaginably weird. Where the fuck am I? I feel like the alien, set down in a strange land of commercial desolation and culture-less uniformity. In the calm-reasoning light of day I'm reminded the latter isn't true, and I can just appreciate Faye's wonderful vocal phrasing and slightly submerged but ever-present pop sense instead.


  • At July 29, 2004 at 4:18 PM, Blogger nate said…

    ah, yes, kar wai wong...very tasty stuff, but i think the cranberries cover made me not rush out too quickly...what cds should i look at?

    by the way, one can attribute the crush syndrome both to the dear faye and christopher doyle (chungking's cinematographer and a fav cine for most film students).

    how's the rat race of music writing treating you?

    nice blog, by the way...

  • At July 30, 2004 at 12:01 PM, Blogger Josh said…

    Yeah, the Cranberries cover was def. off-putting, I think it made Lauren kind of automatically skeptical about Faye's music, but the one CD I've heard, Fable, is quite good.

    The writing's been good lately, if not financially rewarding, I actually wrote two reviews in the span of the same month for Stylus for the first time since like March, shameful I know, but my newspaper gig keeps me so busy (Petey Pablo and The Hives this week).

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