Thursday List: English-Language Pop Songs in East Asian Cinema

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08/28/2008 9:00 AM |

Every Thursday there is a list. Today is Thursday. This is a list.

This Thursday list was inspired by this post, which pointed to a clip from the original theatrical release of the only movie ever made, Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, in which star Faye Wong’s Cantonese-language cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” (also featured later in the movie) plays over a scene accompanied only by ambient sound in the DVD version available in this country from Kino. I had no idea. (I’m not sold on the repetition, honestly; I think it loses some of its power.) Wong, of course, likes all kinds of music, and frequently casts pop stars in his movies, but I like his taste in American music best, baby. So no bossa nova or anything here, let’s just focus on, for instance, the talismanic use of the original Mamas and the Papas version of “California Dreaming,” also in Chungking Express, and the Cantonese-language version (like “Dreams” seemingly recorded over the original instrumental track) of “Take My Breath Away”, in his first film As Tears Go By. And of course his Happy Together takes its name from the Turtles song, an English-language cover of which (by Cantopop singer Danny Chung) plays over that movie’s fucking great ending.

But what other Asian movies feature English-language pop songs? A rundown of other cross-cultural, pure-pop moments:

Cyclo, “Creep”

This Vietnamese movie by the director of The Scent of Green Papaya should be much better than it is, but this scene is exactly as good as it should be:

Summer Palace, “Hey Mickey”
This Chinese film, which came and went too quickly early this year, is about the private lives of Beijing students leading up to, during, and after the Tiananmen protests and massacre. The scene where Chinese students-political activists-sexual revolutionaries dance to Toni Basil, which is basically the “This Time Tomorrow” scene from Regular Lovers only cornier and disco-lit and thus more touching, is criminally not watchable online. But the French preview does include “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” which is also in the movie, and contains a reenactment-to-archival footage cut that’s my favorite single edit in a movie this year:

Rebels of the Neon God
, ???
First of all, hey, look, you can watch all of Tsai Ming-liang’s first movie online, on your computer, at Do that, that’s awesome. (Although I should point out that, even putting aside issues like picture quality, the menu of the U.S. DVD of this movie is like my seventh or eighth favorite movie.)

The song, right. It starts at about 58 minutes in, and then Lee Kang-sheng starts roller-skating to it. What song is this? Is it New Edition? Somebody tell me, please. It’s killing me.

Three Times, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “Rain and Tears”
You can also watch the first two thirds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times here (but really you should probably just start your own movie theater and then show it, every day). The first third (or, here, half) has, pretty much immediately and then again later on, the Platters gem, which is Hou’s favorite karaoke song (really!), and, also used as a motif, the semi-obscure late-60s hit “Rain and Tears,” by Aphrodite’s Child (featuring a very pre-Chariots of Fire/Blade Runner Vangelis).

A Better Tomorrow, “Sparrowfall”
Guys, this epic 1986 blood-is-thickest John Woo shoot-em-up is the most, and it happens, about 57 minutes in, to make use of one of the songs in Brian Eno’s Music for Films. (Although its Canto-cheese soundtrack is kind of more subject-appropriate.)

And, again, watch the whole movie, or just the Eno song 57 minutes in, here (no there are no English subtitles, but this is a very easy movie to follow without dialogue).

Sad Vacation, “Sad Vacation”
Shinji Aoyama’s latest, recently seen on these shores at the New York Asian Film Festival, takes its title from Johnny Thunders’ raw Sid Vicious tribute, which plays over its opening credits. As you can see when you watch the movie in its entirety, on my new favorite website

Anything I’m forgetting?

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