Wednesday Round-Up: It’s Wong Kar-Wednesday!

wongkarwai

On certain days, “Chunking Express” is my favorite movie, and Wong Kar-wai is my favorite director. So the fact that his latest film, “The Grandmaster,” is opening in Buffalo next Friday (August 30) thrills me.

It has been a long-time coming. It feels like his last release, 2008’s “Ashes of Time Redux,” was a decade ago, and his last “real” film, “My Blueberry Nights,” seems like it came out two decades ago.

“The Grandmaster” has been talked about for several years, and its production was downright epic. But now it is here, and that means we are being flooded with interviews, appreciations, reviews, and more.

One example is a very good interview he did with Slant. One question in particular jumped out to me:

Slant: I’ve seen two different cuts of the film, and there was plenty of “exclusive” footage in each. If it weren’t for that lack of patience among audiences, would you like to release a version that comprises most of the footage, one that would be as long as most Leone movies? Or are the running times dictated by other things?

“Yeah, sadly, today, the distribution of films is very competitive, so in China we can afford to release this film at two hours and 10 minutes, but we have an obligation to release this film under two hours in the United States. But I don’t just want to do a shorter version, do some trimming, take out some scenes, because I think the structure of the Chinese version is very delicate, and very precise. So instead I want to do a new version, I want to tell this story in a different way. And in fact, American cinema, besides Chinese cinema, has the longest history with kung-fu films. So I think we can focus and go directly to the story. In the Chinese version, it’s really about time. And here [in the U.S.] it’s really about character. We follow the story of Ip Man and go through this world of martial arts.”

Hmm. I hope we have a chance to see both cuts here in the States, perhaps on DVD; methinks I’ll be buying an import copy. This is tricky, though. WKW seems pretty cool about it all above, but check out this breakdown of the crucial differences between the U.S. and Hong Kong edits on Film.com.

Let’s take a look at some cool articles etc. on WKW and his films.

 

Photo from Slant article: Wong Kar Wai on the set of “The Grandmaster.” [PHOTO: THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY]

Squid, McDonald’s, and Blueberry Nights: Talking Food and Film on “Eat It Up”

My Blueberry Nights 1

Recently, my old Target coworker Donnie Burtless, who has become one of Western New York’s top bloggers with his fantastic Buffalo Eats website, invited me onto his “Eat It Up” podcast to talk about food and film, and I was honored to be asked. We had a blast, touching on a wild mix of films and topics, everything from the infamous squid-eating scene in “Oldboy” to the great “How’s the Italian food in this restaurant?” sequence in “The Godfather.”

There were plenty of films I forgot to mention, such as “Ratatouille,” but I think we did a good job of covering a range of films.

Before going on, I did some serious thinking about the topic, and I realized how vitally important food is to the films of my favorite director, Wong Kar-wai. It was a thought that had never occurred to me … and then seemed forehead-slappingly obvious.

“Chunking Express,” of course, sets the majority of the action in its second tale in a rather dive-y Hong Kong restaurant; it is here where the characters played by the incandescent Faye Wong and the sweet-cool Tony Leung meet. And of course, there is the expired-pineapple-as-metaphor-for-dying-romance segment in the first tale.

As an incisive piece on the Hungry Donkeys blog pointed out, “Fallen Angels,” released shortly after “Chunking,” “is even more focused on food.” I love this take on the ubiquitous Golden Arches:

“Scenes include Leon Lai (Li Ming), playing a hit man, eating a burger and fries in an empty 24hr McDonald’s as Karen Mok, playing a half crazed woman with a blond wig, comes over, sits down and proceeds to pick him up. Not a word is spoken through the whole scene. This is by far the best advertisement for McDonald’s ever made.”

But the culmination of Wong’s food-adoration is surely “My Blueberry Nights,” a film that to me is without question the most underrated creation of his career. We see pie during the opening credits, we watch Norah Jones eat pie, we see Jude Law kiss away a dollop of ice cream on her lips — we are deep in a world of food and passion, and, Wong seems to be saying, it’s the world we live in.

Perhaps that’s why I hope foodies seek out “Blueberry”; it is hard to think of a film so focused on the art of eating. I reviewed the film for the Buffalo News back in May 2008, and I did not spend too much time on the food aspect. But I did, I believe, make my love for it clear.

Here — while we await the American release of the director’s latest, “The Grandmaster” — is that four-star review:

Wong Kar Wai is the world’s greatest living director, period.

OK, that’s one man’s opinion, but I have no doubt about it. His films — “Chunking Express,” “In the Mood for Love,” “2046” — have the passionate thrust of Scorsese and Bertolucci, the quirk of Woody Allen or Almodovar, and the kinetic sense of possibility that engulfs the finest moments of Spielberg or Coppola. He’s the man.

But even knowing all of this, there is reason to be wary of “My Blueberry Nights,” Wong’s first-ever English language work.

For starters, its main character, a soul-searcher named Elizabeth, is played, in her acting debut, by singer Norah Jones. Second, distributor the Weinstein Company sat on the film for months, releasing it only in a heavily edited version. It’s the director’s first film in years without his usual cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. And lastly, the critical response so far has been mostly blah, with many calling it the director’s weakest effort.

Consider mine an alternate view, one that’s admittedly colored by my outright fanaticism for his films: I think “My Blueberry Nights” is a heartfelt, lyrical wonder that is at once a fresh move for Wong, but also an ideal next step whose heart is directly in line with the unrequited lovers of “In the Mood for Love” and the shy romantics of “Chunking.”

Norah Jones — the Grammy-winning, smooth-voiced songstress — makes a fine debut here, although she plays a character who spends most of the film reacting: smiling, crying, thinking. The blank- slate aspect of this novice actress works ideally for the role, especially since the story takes a back seat to the mood.

Ah, the story. “My Blueberry Nights” is a romance, a modest little road movie without much in the way of plot. Jones’ Elizabeth (or later, Lizzie) is a recently jilted lover drawn into a New York City cafe run by Jeremy, played by Jude Law in what might be his most effective, likable performance to date. The two form a bond over heartbreak and, yes, blueberry pie.

But it’s not enough to keep Elizabeth in one place. She decides that it’s time to hit the road, and so she does, finding herself in Memphis, and beyond.

Here, she comes into contact with a varying group of somewhat shady characters, most notably Arnie (played with wounded grace by David Strathairn), his fiery ex (a boiling Rachel Weisz) and, finally, Leslie, a poker-mad gambler played with a sexy joie-de- vivre by a blond Natalie Portman.

And, well, that’s pretty much the plot. Elizabeth/Lizzie learns some lessons, Jude’s Jeremy searches for her in vain, the singer Cat Power (real name: Chan Marshall) makes a short cameo appearance and, through it all, Wong Kar Wai’s standard mood of unbridled romance surges through every character, word and shot.

Darius Khondji is the lensman this time, and he has big shoes to fill; Chris Doyle’s work on “Fallen Angels,” in particular, is time- capsule-quality. But the remarkably talented Khondji has a solid track record of his own, having shot “Se7en” and “Delicatessen.” Wong, viewing the vastness of America as an outsider, likely loved the idea of seeing his work with a new set of eyes, especially considering Doyle’s noted craziness.

If you allow yourself to be drawn into these characters’ shaggy- dog lives, and the Lizzie-Jeremy love story in particular, you’re in for a real treat, and you might wonder why exactly the critical response has been so negative.

Clearly, “My Blueberry Nights” is by no means a film for all viewers. But I can imagine that many who have never heard of Wong Kar Wai might attend the movie for its stars and find a sweet, simple tale.

For those of us who view the world of cinema through Wong’s ever- present shades, it’s another masterpiece.

Thank You! And (Re)Pondering “Chunking Express”

chungking-express3s

So it has been one week since my first real post, and it’s been a great eight days. I’ve enjoyed doing some writing, but it’s also been cool receiving such nice feedback. A sincere thanks to everyone who has visited the site, “liked” FilmSwoon on Facebook, started following me on Twitter, and read some of my FB posts. There will be a lot of fun to come, I think.

Case in point: One of my most eagerly anticipated films of the summer is “The Grandmaster,” directed by Wong Kar-wai. He is probably my favorite filmmaker, and his “Chunking Express” is probably my favorite movie. It is, in fact, something of an impetus for this site. There are few films that have bowled me over the way “Chunking” did (and does). The above still is from the sequence that made me realize just how much I adored the film.

“Chunking” is certainly a film I’ll be revisiting. Just thinking about it now makes me want to go watch it again …

Quentin Tarantino had a line about the film (I feel like it was on the original DVD release from his Rolling Thunder imprint) that just seems perfect, something about it making him so happy to love a film that much. That’s what I feel for “Chunking Express.”