Monday, November 17, 2008

There's Only One Sun

There's Only One Sun
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong, 2007
Approx. 10 minutes

The most interesting thing about this short is its intent and means of distribution. Last year, the Philips electronics corporation planned to unveil an exciting new product for the home theater market. Called the Aurora, the product was a new high-definition television set with an interesting new feature. Philips' groundbreaking "ambilight" technology would read the colors at the frame's edge of whatever media is currently being played on the screen, and then project a light of matching color from behind the television set onto the walls and room surrounding it. The idea was to create a more immersive viewing experience, by expanding the presence of the material on screen into the greater space of the home. It's pretty cool stuff, and Philips was burdened with the task of adequately translating the appeal of this new feature through marketing.
This is where Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai steps into the picture. At the time, Wong's last film was a dark and beautiful romantic sequel to his critically acclaimed 60s period piece, In The Mood For Love (2001). The new film, entitled 2046, was also predominantly set in 1960s Hong Kong, but a large subplot of the film concerned itself with a strange futuristic fantasy story illustrating the writings of the film's main character.  For those unfamiliar, Wong Kar-Wai (WKW from now on) has a propensity for creating intoxicatingly rich, dreamlike, sensual moving images in his films that compliment his improvisational production techniques as well as his usual themes of unfulfilled love, memory, and chance. So, having just released 2046 to critical acclaim and an admirable commercial success, Philips approached WKW to make an original short film in the style of his last feature to demonstrate the qualities of their new product.

The result is the film you can view above, a fantastically colorful and sexy piece, that virtually oozes WKW's signature dream-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, you can no longer view the film in the entirely unique manner in which Philips originally devised. The picture was released exclusively on the net, on a site devoted specifically to the launch of the new product. What made the project a unique success was a virtual simulation of the Aurora television itself, complete with simulated ambilight technology to demonstrate the practical functionality of the device. There's Only One Sun streamed on the website within its virtual television set, and as the extravagantly colorful scenes unfolded viewers could see the lighting render in real time. How better to demonstrate a new screening feature than to show it to the people? And how better to show it to as many people as possible than through the internet?

What's also fascinating is the lengthy pre-marketing-marketing that gradually build interest and hype for the reveal of the product and WKW's short film itself. Various stages of the website came online in the months leading up to the unveiling, featuring cryptic clues and savvy advertising lingo to get people excited. I believe at one point there was a sort of newsletter/fan-club section where members could access exclusive images from the film and other behind-the-scenes things like that (I can't say for sure what the exact sequence of pre-advertising consisted of since most of the website have long since closed down). On some date closer to the launch of the film, they even released a teaser trailer for the short featuring about 30 seconds of footage. The whole affair played out like a legitimate Hollywood pre-release strategy, though the entire thing unleashed online and for a short film.

lt's worth looking at the film itself a bit more closely as well, considering how it ties directly into the marketing theory of the whole ordeal. WKW has pretty openly embraced advertising within his feature films (His second film, Days of Being Wild, opens with Leslie Cheung buying a Coke, Fallen Angels sets a pivotal scene inside a McDonalds, and WKW even made one of those fun BMW "The Hire" shorts also made for the net) as well as worldly pop music and an ideology fully supportive of a capitalist Hong Kong. As such, it's not surprising that the Aurora television set itself plays a key role in the film it's advertising. The protagonist, having infiltrated the trust of a criminal mastermind in order to kill him, arrives at a strange organic-looking hallway bathed in light, the source of which being the Aurora. She muses on the power of the screen to sustain the life of memories indefinitely while they fade and die outside. WKW imbues the medium and technology itself with a sort of mystical appeal and value, the Philips product being a relevant and associatively forward-thinking construct of that power. The female spy missing "Light", her target and (this being a WKW film after all) love, presses her body up against the screen associating its warmth with that of her lost lover. If that doesn't sell a TV, I don't know what will.

Ultimately, I can't help but admire this short (being a devoted WKW fanatic) and its ingenious marketing plot (being... a savvy consumer?). There's one point where I realize I'm looking at a television set in a film... that's being shown within a virtual simulation of that same television set... that I'm then viewing on my computer monitor... that I sure as hell wish were a Philips Aurora television set, because those things are frickin' sexy!

No comments: