Quibi’s ‘The Stranger’: How Wong Kar-wai Influenced the Show’s Music

     August 27, 2020

For any thriller, music makes a huge difference in setting the scene, whether it be heightening the tension or trying to hint that the worst is over. In the Quibi original series The Stranger, that’s definitely the case; the original music for the show was composed by Bobby Krlic, but in addition, the series features a number of recognizable tunes brought together by music supervisor Frankie Pine, including:

“California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and the Papas
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Chromatics
“Badido” by Banda La Estrella
“Viento” by La Gran Llajta
“Warning Signs” by Gabe Burdulis
“Rapido” by V12
“Lovely Day” by Bill Withers
“Grindhouse (Original Mix)” by Botnek
“When Will I See You Again” by The Three Degrees
“California Dreamin'” by Sia


Photo by Darren Michaels; Courtesy of Quibi

According to The Stranger creator Veena Sud, she typically doesn’t think about including specific songs in her series, and brought in Kelly after working with him on the Netflix series Seven Seconds. However, she tells Collider’s Perri Nemiroff in the video interview above that “when I was writing this, because the Quibi format necessitates a very propulsive type of storytelling that is usually not my jam, this whole other part, I think, opened up of using music.”

This was also especially true given the nature of the plot, as much of the action involves rideshare driver Clare (Maika Monroe) navigating the night. “And in a city like Los Angeles, we drive around with our radio playing,” Sud says. “We hear other people’s radios playing. We hear music on the street. So from the get-go, it was an homage to the city of Los Angeles, to the music that comes from the city.”

Not only that, but the song choices tied directly into Clare’s journey as a character. “‘California Dreamin’ was the very first piece that I thought of when I was thinking of Clare,” Sud says, “and a huge part is because I was also thinking of Wong Kar-wai, who was another giant influence on the film besides Collateral and Nightcrawler.” Wong Kar-wai notably used the song in his 1994 classic Chungking Express, which plays repeatedly to signal a character’s enduring optimism.


Image via Quibi

Continues Sud, “So I was thinking about “California Dreamin’,” and then I heard other versions of it, and then I heard … Yeah, so it was just like I was hearing music and writing and in this energetic space, and the songs just kept coming.”

Of course, while the series begins with the original Mamas and the Papas version of “California Dreamin’,” it ends with Sia’s 2015 cover. Using the same song by two different artists was a deliberate choice, Sud says, because “I wanted Clare to change. She was a different woman at the end, then she wasn’t being radically different. And so California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas have a hopefulness, especially in the Wong Kar-wai film, and openness, hopefulness, naïveté, sweetness, that she no longer possesses at the end of the film for good.”

So because things for Clare aren’t quite so happy in the end, Sud says, “I wanted a very different type [of song]. She came to California with a character with a dream, and this is the new dream that she gets in this city of dreams.”

The Stranger is now streaming only on Quibi.