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(Moved from the temple of our old friend, Mighty Ganesha)

Hold on to your walnuts, kids, cos this is a big one: Your ever luvin’ Elephant-Head has been graced with an exclusive visit by legendary Hong Kong film director, Wong Kar-wai. Director Wong is the brilliant hand behind some of the Temple’s favourite features, In the Mood for Love, 2046, Happy Together and the darling Chungking Express. Sit in as the cool and stylish auteur and I chat about everything from Otis Redding, Tennessee Williams, Hong Kong diners, Leslie Cheung’s anniversary, Chinese censorship and of course the Temple’s Unrequited Luv, Mr. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Oh, and he gets a mention of his latest gorgeous film, My Blueberry Nights somewhere in there, as well.

Dig it!


My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar-wai


Mighty Ganesha: Director Wong, it’s an honour to meet you. I’m so pleased to be speaking with you about your first American-made film. I wondered what were some of the differences in working in the US versus working in Asia?

Wong Kar-Wai: Well, technically it’s not very different. Of course there’s certain rules, like especially when we’re working with unions, it’s quite different from the way we work in Hong Kong, but the rest basically is to me the same. The main difference is actually the collaborations with my team because actually this is the first time we worked together and we come from different backgrounds and have different language. My DPs French and part of my team is French, and also we have some of our crew from Hong Kong to work with our team here. So, for me basically is how to think in terms of English, you know? Because we have seen so many films made in China or in Asia about Asian characters by Western filmmakers, foreign filmmakers, which looks a bit weird to us. So I just want to avoid this mistake. I just wanted to {get} as close to American characters as possible. So, in that sense, I have to involve all my crew and cast in this process, because I’m sure they understand they understand this country or these people more than me.


MG: Each of the characters in My Blueberry Nights has very elemental qualities,

WK-W: Um-hmm.


MG:  Jude Law’s character is very patient, Rachel Weisz’s & Natalie Portman’s characters are very tempestuous. Do you think you could have made this film using Asian actors or transported the story using an Asian background?

WK-W: The essence of it, I’m sure, the story could happen in Hong Kong. The thing is there’s certain details, which is we imagined this story … The original idea for the story came from a short film I made three years ago in Hong Kong, so I have to expand that story and how to turn this story into an American context. And of course we can think of the story in terms of in Chinese or in Asian, but I think a lot of details would be different, because like the chapters with Rachel and David {Strathairn} basically is like homage to Tennessee Williams, so we’re trying to capture that sense in that story.


MG: What is the short film that you mentioned?

WK-W: It’s a short film called In the Mood for Love 201. Basically, it’s one of the chapters originally like part of In the Mood for Love, but later on, the story took place in Hong Kong in the 90’s in a diner.


MG:  Will you tell us about Norah Jones? She’s the big discovery of My Blueberry Nights. Her acting is so natural and this is her first film. What was it like to work with her? Did you have to work strongly with her or did you just let her do her thing?

WK-W: I was attracted to Norah because I think there’s certain spirits and she’s also a very spontaneous woman, and I like the confidence of her. So, the character of Elizabeth, in fact, I based on Norah’s spirits and personality. So I don’t have to tell her much because she’s basically like a natural in front of the camera and she is very smart and she’s like a sponge, you know? We had a very intense schedule; we had shot in four different cities in seven weeks. And in each of the cities or the chapters, she has to deal with a new costar, and most of them like Natalie, and David is one of the best of this generation. So it’s very hard for her, but I think she handled herself nicely, and actually she’s like a sponge, she absorbed all of this experience and you can see her grow, you know? And at the end of the shoot, basically I can see her very, very confident.


MG: I’m always struck by your ability to capture women transforming in your films and I wonder where did you get that insight to the inner workings of women?

WK-W: I like women and I pay a lot of attention to women! {Laughs} That is the only logical explanation!


MG: Well, that works for me but I am always struck watching a film like In the Mood for Love or even this new film at how true and how not clichéd your female characters are. I always think, ‘He’s a man, how can he know that? How does he see that?’

WK-W: It doesn’t take a woman to understand women. I think sometimes maybe from a different perspective from a man, I think they also have certain insight.


MG: Here in My Blueberry Nights there is once again a wonderful soundtrack. I’d love to know about working with Ry Cooder on this film, but also you seem to have love of jazz and Latin music, I wonder if you are a frustrated musician?


WK-W: No… {Laughs}


MG:  Really? You have seem to have such an appreciation of music and you use it so beautifully in your films?


WK-W: I think to be a musician, you need first of all talent and discipline, because you need to practice. And you have to work very hard to perfect your craft, and I’m not sure I have that patience or discipline, but I imagine myself to be a very good DJ.

I appreciate music and somehow I’d like to share it with people. In this film I think the music’s almost like in two ways, there’s two functions; one of them is to serve as a reference of place. Because in this country there’s … because we took several trips before shooting to look for the locations, and we drove like 15 hours a day, and we realised when you hit a certain area, the radio, the music in the radio is different. And since the film has four chapters I just want to make the audience understand, realise that she’s moved on to another region of this country. So, like in Memphis, we have all this Otis Redding and Ruth Brown. In New York we have Cat Power. And then we have Ry Cooder, because they {the music} are like chapters, they are like the background, they are the reference, but we also have to link these chapters together, and the music of Ry is more like the theme of this film. It gives you a sense of lingering.


MG: One of the effects I’ve seen in your films, it’s in Happy Together, it’s in In the Mood for Love and it’s here in My Blueberry Nights is when a character takes their troubles and put them somewhere, leaves them behind and they go on with the rest of their lives. Does that work for you? Are you able to take your troubles and put them somewhere?

WK-W: I put all my problems in a film and just finish it!


MG: That’s your therapy!

WK-W: {Laughs} That’s what I think. It’s very interesting, this morning, on my way here I saw a sign, it’s called “Everybody needs an outlet.” So maybe a film is like an outlet. My Blueberry Nights is an outlet after 2046, because it’s totally different from 2046 and it gives me a chance to do something very different from what I used to do.


MG: You have had no trouble working with singers and making them into actors. It seems like in Asia, its fine to do that. Here in the U.S. it’s looked at a little differently. Did you have a sense of that while making this film?

WK-W: Yeah, I was quite surprised because in Hong Kong, most of the great actors came from music backgrounds, like Leslie and Tony; they all have their singing careers, so, to me it’s like very natural. And somehow, I feel like it doesn’t apply here, because here it’s very distinct like actors and singers is two different things.


MG: Today is the anniversary of the passing of Leslie Cheung and I wondered if you could share a memory of him, a story or something about him that made you smile? When you think of him what do you think of?

WK-W: The night before I came to New York actually, in the local stations, they broadcast two films that I made with Leslie back-to-back. The first one is Days of Being Wild; the second one is Happy Together. So, um, it’s, uh, I think I worked with Leslie together for, oh, it’s five films together. So, um …

{Long pause}

I appreciate Leslie as a great actor and also a dear friend. I remember five years ago we were shooting a short film Eros with Gong Li in Hong Kong and it was a night shoot. Before we get to our locations, we get the call saying about the bad news, terrible news, so we are all very shocked. And that night is a very, very memorable night, because actually we are not shooting, we are talking about Leslie. And at the end of the night we just went to a restaurant and we just talked about it. We still don’t believe it’s true.


MG: Well, I understand today in Hong Kong there is a very touching memorial concert taking place in his memory.

WK-W: Yes, right.


MG: I would love to ask about some of the other actors that you’ve worked with in particular, my favourite, Leung Chiu-Wai. Can you give us some quick words that come to your mind about working with Tony?

WK-W: I don’t know, because I feel like there is a lot of things between me and Tony that is beyond words. We don’t need meetings, talks, whatever, because a lot of things are understood. So, I think he also would share a lot of time together on some of the works we are all very proud of. He’s really a partner.


MG: I know Tony is a fan of the works of Lawrence Block. And this is your first work with Mr. Block on {the script for} My Blueberry Nights? What was that like?

WK-W: I think when I introduced the books of Larry to Tony, because I think I can see some possibilities. The series called Matthew Scudder is about a detective. I said, “Well, we should look at this because this character reminds me of you, and maybe we can try to do something with this writer.” And later on we set up a meeting for him to meet with Larry and I hope someday we can work on something together.


MG: Are you planning to make more films in America or are you happy to go back to Hong Kong?

WK-W: Hong Kong is always my base, right? So, basically I have no preoccupations about working in the United States or whatever, as long as there’s the right project and the necessities to make a film here is fine.


MG: And what is coming up after My Blueberry Nights?

WK-W: Actually, we are working on two projects at this point. One is called The Grandmaster, which is with Tony to play the master of Bruce Lee…


MG: Yip Man?

WK-W: Yeah! And the other one is The Lady from Shanghai.


MG: Will that actually be made in Shanghai?

WK-W: The original idea is to shot the most part of it in Shanghai, a part of it here and in Russia.


MG: Is there a cast for that yet? 

WK-W: It’s with Nicole Kidman.


MG: Which of your characters is most like you?

WK-W: All of them! {Laughs}


MG: Is Final Victory still your favourite script that you‘ve written?

WK-W: Yes, because, I think it’s very lucky to have Patrick {Tam} to be the director of that film, because it is a very satisfying collaboration, because we worked together almost like two years on that script, and finally it turned out to be something more than I expected because Patrick has given a lot of insight to that script.


MG: I recently watched Happy Together again and I’m still amazed at how bold it is. I wonder if its frank content was controversial in Asia? I know there had been controversy over the sexuality of Lust Caution and Brokeback Mountain. And also right now with the a big scandal due to certain photographs that is talked about all over Asia; do you think that scandal will have any effect on government censorship or change how stars are seen by their public as having a “pure” image?

WK-W: I don’t think so. I think it is only like an individual incident and basically it’s a lot of things going on. I don’t think it will have a very substantial impact.


MG: I read that Tang Wei was recently blacklisted by the Chinese government for her role in Lust, Caution.

WK-W: Yeah.


MG: Yet, you were able to make a film with the strong sexual themes of Happy Together over 10 years ago.

WK-W: We don’t have any problems in Hong Kong, but somehow we had problems in Singapore! {Laughs} So, it’s very hard to tell.


~ Mighty Ganesha

April 1st, 2008




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