Journal Title: Wide Screen
Vol. 9, No.1, July 2022
Abstract: Out of an analysis of the 1984 film Silent Romance, Wong Kar Wai’s first film as a credited screenwriter and a film in which he appears in an onscreen cameo, this essay explores film genre and representations of disability through theories of labor. Proposing that Wong Kar Wai responds to genre as a cinematic reordering of relations of production, the essay shows that depictions of disability as alienated
labor in Wong’s films interrupt stable genre formations and expose the forces that interpolate ostensibly able-bodied subjects into being. A screwball comedy, Silent Romance presents deafness as an impairment that leads to creative ruptures within the working day for the deaf protagonist. With comedic gags that play upon the tension between deafness and disability—and deafness as culture formed within norms enforced by audism—the cartoonist’s sensory difference makes him subject to abuse but is the basis for a rich fantasy life that drives his work as storyteller and illustrator. Wong Kar Wai returned to a central deaf character a decade later in the 1994 film Fallen Angels. In Fallen Angels, Ho Chi Woo (played by singer
Jin Chengwu) is not framed by difference or loss but becomes emblematic of visible surplus as a prankster who seizes capitalist modes of production in eccentrically small and everyday ways. Petty criminal, hapless lover, and devoted son, Ho is both the axis of the narrative and a character that turns notions of deafness as disability on their head. As sensory and communication differences also turn genre
formations of the gangster film, romantic comedy, and melodrama inside out, Ho disrupts representations of disability in both film history and the political economy. The latter film thus fulfills and expands Wong’s earliest interests as a screenwriter to expose idealist and positivist notions of human value as an alibi for the ableist production of subjects under capital.