Wong Kar Wai Why?

Norah Jones and sassy Natalie Portman in My Blueberry Nights

When I was in later years of high school, my dad and I had this tradition twice a month: we’d go, on a weeknight, to see a foreign film at a small arthouse theater in not-too-far-away Princeton, NJ. Perhaps my favorite film out of those two years or so of bi-monthly film-going was In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s sumptuous, lyrical and heartbreaking meditation on what it’s like to be in love with someone you can’t be with. Not only is the story haunting, but you’ve got possibly the most beautiful, emotive, and, above all, most spirited Asian actress alive (Maggie Cheung–who I will note also speaks perfect English with a lovely British accent and can act in non-Chinese films fluidly…do go see Chinese Box or Irma Vep).

In the Mood for Love is set in 1960’s Hong Kong; however it’s not a realistic historical setting, but Wong Kar Wai’s imaginative understanding of the time. The aesthetic alludes to the drabness of Communism and the  delicate beauty of traditional Chinese culture, as well as the bold design and patterns of western-style Post-WWII-Modernism that were infiltrating. What results is a portrait of longing for Western lifestyle with a nostalgic need to return to something far more simplistic. It’s as much a love story as it is a lament for the days before the fucked-up dynamic of mid-Century “free” China, one that was heading straight into commerce while reeling from the near-by effects of Maoism. It also plays out visually in a series of patterns and repetitions (up and down, doors opening and shut, the same strains of music repeated again and again).

As a very young music lover, burgeoning photographer, and secret romantic, well it was like heaven. Yes, it was literally one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life.  I’ve since seen most of his films–an earlier film Chunking Express, starring the beyond charming Asian pop-singer Faye Wong and a Mama’s and the Papa’s song (yes, music and specific songs play as much a role in his films as the actors), is one of my favorite films of all time. 

So, needless-to-say, I was really psyched to see My Blueberry Nights, his latest release and his first film in English. Yeah, I read the reviews and they said it was lacking. Gina was ambivalent about it.  And I also kind of hate Norah Jones (who gets potential Faye Wong treatment in it as singer turned actress playing a the wide-eyed young girl). Despite these reservations, I was still fully willing to fall into it completely–the same way I did when I saw In the Mood for Love on screen almost 10 years ago.  That didn’t happen, but I still love you Wong! 5 good/5 bad aspects of the cinematic experience. 

Good (’cause I’m an optimist despite all the black tights and early Cure albums I own)

1. My lovely movie-watching company.

2. The Angelika theater not being raided with scary NYU students in Doc Martins (as was the case the night Tyler and I went to see new Gondry Be Kind Rewind)

3. Natalie Portman’s spunky and very mature performance as a hustler.

4. The ending scene (no spoilers– I won’t give it away!). Literally the theme comes full circle with a single shot. Also because the final scene reminds you that this film’s theme also revolves around rememberance, lost love, and new beginnings and that’s why I love you Wong Kar Wai.

5. David Strathairn. Dude fucking rules in everything he’s in.

5 bad things

1. There were all these people leaving and returning to their seats throughout the film. It was slow, but my god, do you have to get up 18 times in a half-hour?

2. Norah Jones as actress. Chick can’t sing. Chick apparently can not act either. She is quite beautiful, though…and her dad, man, he was cool (Ravi Shankar!).

3. The ubiquity of the Cat Power album The Greatest. I don’t even like that album much, but considering Cat Power is also IN THE FUCKING MOVIE, it was a bit much.

4. Dialogue. Not everyone can write seamlessly in several languages and that’s ok. You don’t have to be a Nabokov or a Beckett or an Ang Lee for that matter (although Lee’s English-speaking best work is when he adapts from stories written in English already). That’s alright Wong! We understand! Just get a talented screenwriter. It worked for Gondry (see Eternal Sunshine…and then see all the films after it and you know what I mean). The dialogue came off as contrived and stupid and that makes me sad, because Wong is not a dumb guy. In fact, the dialogue in his prior films, uh, well, at least what I read in subtitles, is quite clever in its spareness and connection to plot.

5. This one is tied three ways:

-the chest cold that was nagging my entire respiratory system

-the improbability of Jude Law playing a remotely compassionate person or the unbelievablity of Rachel Weisz as a white trash bitch despite that she’s a good actress (lack of hairbrush does not make one raised in a trailer park)

-the bizarrely terrible 15 minutes of the film that really resembled Thelma and Louise  

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