Bleeding Love in Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights (2007) May 27, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Written by Wong Kar-wai and Lawrence Block
Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn
It makes me wonder why some people are quick to dismiss Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights as “bland,” “fairly contrived,” and “a drag to watch” while his biggest hit abroad, In The Mood For Love, is almost the same thing. Not that there is no truth in these statements, but they seem to imply that Wong has failed to adapt his style in a more familiar terrain, with Hollywood stars, neon lights, and American cities as characters, so therefore, he should go back to his country and film his deathless love stories and hopeless romantic characters there on lavish backdrops of nothing but bleeding love.
Well that may be the case, but My Blueberry Nights is still a good film, cordially inviting and understatingly sensual, unmistakably a welcoming work of an auteur who has a keen eye for details and talent for evoking such atmospheric grandeur in a world full of fleeting strangers. It beats me – – the wordless encounters, hopeless cops, directionless characters, deranged neighbours, unrequited love, depressed drunkards, people in midlife crisis having their biggest tantrums – – and Wong is able to pull it off despite the lack of concrete narrative – – yeah, that’s what most viewers are looking for – – immediate closure, and characters who drag the narrative into a black hole. It is not surprising that Wong is an art-house favorite, or perhaps what’s more appropriate is that he makes films that only a few regard as worthy and entertaining, because he continues to be strikingly original despite the nagging popularity of music videos. As a cult figure he gains respect for his craft, his dedication to lengthy projects, his unwillingness to compromise, and his choice to stick with his production team since the beginning: William Chang, Chris Doyle, and his ensemble of actors, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Faye Wong, who had their orgasmic reunion in 2046. Darius Khondji, a notable cinematographer himself who shot David Fincher’s Se7en and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, replaces Doyle but it seems that his absence is rarely felt. My Blueberry Nights is still as intoxicating as any of Wong’s previous works, except that what becomes clear right now is that his stylish vision could only work when he stays on his own track; otherwise it could only lead to insubstantial prematurity.
But I believe that would probably account for his Asian sensibility. Hollywood, as we all know, has a different mindset compared to our own. The audience, as well as the critics, is brought up in a different, but not necessarily contrasting, environment. Hence, filmic sensibility (or the viewing culture itself) is also dictated by one’s set of beliefs and the type of environment (domestic, academic or professional) he grew up with. Despite the said universality of cinema as a language, there still remain pieces that only fit into their own respective puzzles. I have seen all of his films, save for As Tears Go By, and I like all of them – – not everything is excellent, Ashes of Time has great, dragging moments, Fallen Angels is moody and sardonic, In The Mood for Love and 2046 explode silently, Happy Together is a lyrical gem, and Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express remain two of the most daring films in the 90s, bold, brilliant, captivating, the former a beautiful nostalgia to relationships eaten away by memory, and the latter a spunk of modern romance between two pairs of far-fetched lovers, in the land of expired pineapple tin cans and The Mamas and the Papas – – for Wong figures the significance of time to its people, the loneliness of the twenty-first century man, his dislocation despite the progressive nature of the world, and the distance between them magnified by their own isolation. The recent renaissance of Asian films brings into light the distinct characteristic of our region, with societies that are passionate, heterogeneous, and complex manifestations of historical hegemony, and our filmmakers – – frankly there are a lot of them to speak of – – are very eager to introduce this sensibility to the more recluse and divergent Western mindset. That is why in the last few years, the trend of adopting Asian films, from Japanese horror to Korean romantic-comedies, has become very popular; but unfortunately almost none of them have been successful. Hollywood filmmakers just tend to make use of the plot, change a bit to suit the new actors, and forget about the literary virtues of the original film. It’s not the dialogues; it’s the emotions from them. It’s not the setting; it’s the relationship of the characters to it. It’s not about actors with big names; it’s about talented actors who are appropriate to their roles. Imagine My Sassy Girl without Jeon Ji-hyun and you’ll get what I mean. With the release of the US version, I wonder, what’s the purpose of doing it apart from raising finances? Well if they are sincere about admiring the original, then just have the film shown in theaters. What’s wrong with a rerun? I bet most of the people have just seen it in DVDs. Yes, some people dislike reading subtitles, that’s why. But as that Samsung commercial clearly points out, the beauty of an original is in the originality of its beauty. Nothing beats that.
And what if it’s the other way around? The filmmaker comes to Hollywood to direct a remake of his own film. Quite ludicrous, isn’t it? But Yam Laranas is recently receiving positive reviews for his Hollywood project, The Echo, with Iza Calzado reprising the role which earned her an Urian recognition. In that line of thought, it feels like My Blueberry Nights is something that you get when Wong goes to Hollywood and remakes his own film, with the same luscious style, bleeding images, discreet couples, and experimental film speed, minus the cheongsams and vaselined hair and replaced by fervid shots of trains bound to nowhere over neon lights dissolving into people’s faces. The reworking of his usual motifs in the American setting proves to be rather difficult to suspend disbelief – – but in defense of Norah Jones, she is actually very promising, some expect a lot of emotions from her which she isn’t able to deliver, which for me is a good thing because Wong’s minimalism, unlike Tsai’s, is not with space but with characters, they show less yet they feel a lot – – and though cultural differences play a critical factor here, and the argument over substance in his entire oeuvre needs much more space, it still wins me over. * * *