Meet the man who was Wong Kar-wai’s go-to photographer

Oct 24, 2018

Through his lens, Wing Shya captured the essence of Hong Kong cinema’s golden years.

He photographed some of the industry’s biggest stars and worked closely with Wong Kar-wai on several films. His moody, saturated colors, whimsical compositions, and blur effects have found many imitators.

A still from Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together.”
A still from Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together.” / Photo: Wing Shya

Wing started out as a graphic designer but became a photographer after shooting CD covers for friends of friends.

He moved into film after Wong asked him to join the crew in Argentina in 1997 for the filming of Happy Together, starring Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung as a gay couple.

His haphazard technique and “many, many mistakes,” as he puts it, were puzzling to Wong at first, but his creative bent produced works that were surprising and interesting enough for the director to enlist Wing for subsequent movies, including the critically acclaimed In the Mood for Love.

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love.”
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love.” / Photo: Wing Shya

Wing developed a distinctive, layered aesthetic partly as a reaction to moving back from “quiet and peaceful” Vancouver, where he had studied art, to hectic Hong Kong.

“When I first came back to Hong Kong, I really hated it,” he says. “I stayed at home most of the time. I didn’t go out.”

His family got him to move out, and it was only after getting his own place that Wing started frequenting busy neighborhoods like Mong Kok.

“I started looking at these places in a new way,” he says, “the neon lights and the chaos. Now I bring those neon colors, that intensity, to my images.”

Leslie Cheung in “Happy Together.”
Leslie Cheung in “Happy Together.” / Photo: Wing Shya

Wing’s work is characterized by a sense of freedom and ease that was missing from the posed and contrived pictures of actors common at the time. Many of Wing’s shots were done when actors were waiting to shoot or busy acting.

“When they were moving or in the middle of movement, I had to capture the next second,” he says. “It was like playing a game, predicting where the person would move next when I pressed the button.”

“They didn’t really see me. They didn’t care about me. I had this freedom to shoot while Wong Kar-wai was directing.”

This sheer spontaneity—the sense of romance and wildness in his pictures—is the most enduring quality of his work.

Adapted from an original article that first appeared in the South China Morning Post.

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