Two petty thieves and their female companion, an employee at a roller disco rink, speed down a highway in Rebels of a Neon God. | Courtesy of Big World Pictures

In Chungking Express and Rebels of the Neon God, the vibes are melancholy but incredibly aesthetic.

Years before I watched my first film from the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, I encountered a collection of stills on Tumblr from his 1994 film Chungking Express. I reblogged the images onto my blog without any previous knowledge of it, on the sole basis of the film’s aesthetics. The images featured one of its protagonists, a boyishly handsome Takeshi Kaneshiro, holding a corded phone up to his left ear with a listless gaze. Below him, the subtitles read: “Password is ‘Love you for 10,000 years.’”

This peculiarly romantic line of dialogue is among a handful of recognizable Wong Kar-Wai scenes that, years later, frequently surface on my social media feeds. Stills like these have helped spark modern online intrigue toward a certain genre of East Asian cinema and the (primarily male) directors that compose this category. Even though the average American moviegoer doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for foreign films, a subset of Western viewers appears to be more receptive to East Asian works — at least according to social media.

In recent years, too, more Asian American directors are producing films that pay stylistic homage to influential East Asian works. One of the multiverses in Everything Everywhere All At Once, for example, was heavily inspired by Wong’s In The Mood for Love, a film about two beautiful people quietly yearning, but never acting upon their unrequited love. (Various posts on Twitter have gone viral for showcasing the two works’ stylistic parallels.) Alan Yang’s Tigertail, released on Netflix in 2020, attempted to emulate the sprawling domestic drama of an Edward Yang film through an expansive multigenerational storyline.

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