(2007) dir. Wong Kar-Wai
viewed: 04/20/08 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
I used to really like Wong Kar-Wai films. I still have great fondness for Days of Being Wild (1991), Ashes of Time (1994), and Fallen Angels (1995). And though Wong Kar-Wai has not been as much a part of the Hong Kong film industry as much as kind of a maverick in that and most worlds, his work has taken a change with the change of that industry. Somehow, though he typically mines similar emotional territory: longing, unrequited love, loneliness, urban isolation, he has been finding new ways of rediscovering it.
Though I’ve still never seen his 2000 film In the Mood for Love, I did see his pseudo-sequel, 2046 (2004), it started to seem that he was in somewhat of a rut.
So, when he decided to do his first English-language film in with non-actress, singer Norah Jones in the lead and several other name Hollywood actors: Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Rachel Weisz, it was sort of like “what?” And his next film is a re-make of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)…so who knows? His early work is his early work.
In My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar-Wai co-scripted with crime writer Lawrence Block, channelling the worlds of Sam Shepard, as Jones, a spurned lover, hits middle America in search of…I don’t even know if she knows what she’s in search of. She modifies her name Elizabeth in each situation she is in, playing, trying new personas, while really being much more of a cipher than a character as she plays witness to human dramas in Nashville and Las Vegas.
Though Wong Kar-Wai has always had some affection or interest in people in the food service (it’s true — go back and see), his characters of Jude Law’s cafe owner and Norah Jones, waitress to the world, are the kind of characters out of a first year film student’s notebook. Their worlds are all a little too poetic and their issues seem detached from a world that they never seem to inhabit. The camera stays in or around Law’s cafe, spying on them. But outside of shots of passing streetcars, we could be anywhere.
I have to say that Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn and even Natalie Portman deport themselves well enough. Norah Jones is fine, too. Some of this carries the film. But some of the other aspects really didn’t deliver verity, per se. While all this maybe worked better from an outsider view of his other work, a Hong Kong, a people, a language, a culture separating me from the narrative more, perhaps. The melodrama seemed apt enough.
I can’t tell you why I wasn’t so excited by this film. Oddly, I think I know folks who would enjoy it. I do wonder what other long-time followers of Wong Kar-Wai’s work think of this.