Wong Kar-wai: east and eros

Wong Kar-Wai Interview di Graham Fuller
22 marzo 2009, 5:20 PM
Filed under: 5. Interviste


During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Wong Kar-wai emerged as the most audacious and innovative stylist in the new Asian cinema. Marrying a frenetic–at times downright distorted–mise-en-scene to tales of cops, gangsters, counter girls, assassins, travelers, femme fatales and other strangers in the night, Wong explored the parameters of urban alienation and thwarted love in movies of impacted lyricism (though his resume also includes a seminally sophisticated martial arts drama, 1994’s Ashes of Time). As thrilling as they are forlorn, the likes of Days of Being Wild (1991), Chungking Express (1994), and Fallen Angels (1995) are the work of a buccaneering modernist.

With his latest, this month’s gorgeous, melancholy in the Mood for Love, Wong confounds expectations by slowing everything to a stately pace. In Hong Kong in 1962, a Chinese journalist and a secretary–Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Mrs. Su (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk)–discover that their spouses are having an affair and, thrown together, embark on their own tantalizing liaison. Wong mostly spares us their clinches: Mood is the operative word here, with gestures and looks stoking the couple’s feverish desire. The movie is about more than blighted amour, however, as the burly, impassive director explained to me one Sunday afternoon at Manhattan’s Mercer hotel.

GRAHAM FULLER: In the Mood for Love grew out of two other films you’d been planning. Summer in Beijing and Three Stories About Food. How did it evolve?

WONG KAR-WAI: After Happy Together [1997], we wanted to make a film in Beijing about two Hong Kong citizens working there. But we had to submit the script to the Chinese authorities, and the censor department didn’t like the title, Summer in Beijing. I said, “It’s very romantic. What’s wrong with that?” At the time, I guess, a lot of filmmakers wanted to make pictures about Tiananmen Square, and the Chinese are sensitive about that. In the end, I thought we shouldn’t make the film because we’d have to change the script, and then we’d have problems afterwards.

I still liked the title Summer in Beijing, though, so I said, “OK, we’ll make a film about a restaurant called ‘Beijing’ that’s not even in Beijing.” We started with three stories. One of them was about two people living in the same building, both married, who find out that something’s going on between their spouses. Then it happens between the two of them, too, and that’s the part we made. We kept making it longer and longer until I thought, Well, we don’t need other stories–we just need this one.

GF: It’s as much about a world that has gone as it is about a love affair, isn’t it?

WKW: Yes. At first, we thought we were making a story about two people sharing a secret. Later I realized it’s more about a certain period that has been lost than about marriage and affairs.

I was born in Shanghai [in 1958] and moved to Hong Kong when I was five. In those days, the Shanghainese in Hong Kong didn’t get along very well with the local people. In the ’30s and ’40s, Shanghai was so modern that even ’50s Hong Kong seemed rather primitive to them. At first the exiles lived by themselves and tried to build a small Shanghai with their own music and cinemas–that’s the background I came from, and it was a unique period in my life. I chose to end the film in 1966 because these people who had been living peacefully in Hong Kong for 15 years suddenly woke up from their dream. They began to realize that the Cultural Revolution was affecting Hong Kong, and a lot of them moved even further away. Those who stayed began to treat Hong Kong as their hometown.

GF: When Mrs. Su and Mr. Chow reflect on their relationship, they are nostalgic for the time and place as much as they are for their lost love.

WKW: That period, actually, is one of the reasons that made the whole thing possible for them, because what made them stick together was the sense they were always being watched by their neighbors and had to whisper about their shared secret. When we see them in 1966, each of them is living an independent life. don’t think they would have been happy if they had lived together. And it’s because they didn’t that the whole thing is memorable to them.

GF: You filmed a love scene between Mrs. Su and Mr. Chow. Why did you cut it?

WKw: I don’t think the audience would want to know if that had happened between them. I shoot my films from the point of view of neighbors, and as a neighbor there is always something you cannot see and have to guess at.

GF: So did they consummate their relationship?

WKW: [pause] It depends on your idea of their relationship. We get used to films that provide a lot of information and we don’t have to ask questions about them, but I would like people to ask questions about this film. I think it’s interesting for the audience to ask, for example, who is the father of Mrs. Su’s kid? The answer will depend on what kind of person you are.

GF: Where Chungking Express and Fallen Angels were hyperkinetic, In the Mood for Love is much more classical. What dictated that?

WEW: I think things were slower in the ’60s. I’m not sure it’s true, actually, but from my memories it seems to be. Also, over the years, audiences have come to expect the faster style from us–it has become our label. People have said, “Can you make a film without moving your camera so much, or without a voice-over?” So it became a challenge to make a more static, classic kind of film. I wanted to make it like a traditional Hitchcock thriller, full of suspense.

GF: You sometimes roll the camera in from left or right of the frame so it alights on the couple. It poeticizes their get-togethers far more than a regular establishing or master shot would. What prompted that choice?

WKW: It’s punctuation. Most of the time in a love story audiences want to concentrate on the coupIe. It’s very indulging, you know? We wanted to start from an ambience and show how their relationship is not the only thing in the world.

GF: You often shoot lovers in isolation–for instance, Faye Wang in Chungking Express and Michelle Reis in Fallen Angels. Here, too, we spend a lot of time with Mrs. Su and Mr. Chow on their own. It’s as if love manifests itself most powerfully in isolation. Why is that such an important idea to you?

WKW: When I was a child, I was the only one who came to Hong Kong; my brother and sister stayed in Shanghai. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I know about loneliness. I always consider my characters to be in orbit. They are in a routine, but then something happens–maybe they fall in or out of love–and they try to break from that routine. So we see them in transit, and at the end they are usually headed in a new direction.

GF: Do you think you could make a film where a love affair ends happily?

WKW: [smiles] That would be a challenge. Maybe it will be the subject of my next film.

Graham Fuller is Interview’s Film writer at Large. In front of the camera, behind the lenses: Wong Kar-wai, opposite left, wears a jacket, top, and pants by Donna Karan New York. Stylist: John vertin. Grooming: Sara Johnson for Sarah Laird.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group


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