Wong takes wrong turn

Pub date April 15, 2008
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Whether his focus is on a gangster who falls for his cousin (As Tears Go By, 1989), or a lovesick cop getting over a breakup (Chungking Express, 1994), or two men who move to Argentina seeking a fresh start (Happy Together, 1997), the world of Wong Kar Wai is always populated by heartbroken people whose unresolved emotions render them romantically challenged. The fluid cinematography, evocative music, and sublime use of slow-motion that accompanies these tales of unrequited love make Wong’s attractive cosmos all the more moving and melancholy.

Although My Blueberry Nights, the director’s first US production, has all of the above ingredients, it isn’t what one expects from Wong. Unnecessary explanatory voice-over and Hallmark-card dialogue destroys the subtlety that permeates most of his films.

During a recent phone interview, Wong attributed this lack of subtlety to the "straightforward" way he believes Americans express their feelings. But I suggest a lot of it has to do with Norah Jones being the film’s star. Although the director admitted the singer was the reason he made the film in the first place, her performance isn’t nearly as nuanced as that of Maggie Cheung’s in In the Mood for Love (2000). An equally plausible explanation might be that well-known mystery novelist Lawrence Block was Wong’s unlikely script collaborator.

Anyone familiar with Wong’s films will be disappointed by the cheery conclusion of My Blueberry Nights. But according to the filmmaker, what we witness is not actually a happy ending. Instead, we’re given what he calls "the happy beginning of another story," one whose ending is as open as it is inevitable.


Opens Fri/18 at Bay Area theaters

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