Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Blueberry Nights

Kiss #2046

Although I cannot proclaim to have watched all of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's works, I can say that of those I have seen, they rung some emotional bell within me, and I count 2046 and especially In The Mood For Love as amongst one of my favourite movies of all time. The themes of love, forbidden love and melancholic longing I can identify with, and that makes those films close to heart.

My Blueberry Nights marks his first English language movie, and made its mark in competition in the 60e Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year. Reviews were mixed, and I was not convinced that it was marginally in the negative territory, but as much as I would like to love this movie, it fell short on most counts. While I know it is unfair to judge this with an eye looking over Wong's past filmography, I can't help it because he, for some reason, stuffed the blueberry pie with so many references from his previous movies, that you can't help but notice as they come so blatantly. And this makes it pay a homage to your own films, but why do you have to do so? Take for instance, we have another lovelorn policeman from Memphis not Chungking and we have cheating couples whose faces we don't really get to see. But it goes beyond the characters and into the technical, with time lapse shots, and the one that takes the cake, was a horrible harmonica rendition of Yumeiji's theme, which to the uninformed, might seem to have just been bad background music to the scene it played in, but to those in the know, it makes for just plain laziness unfortunately, in not necessitating to show what the characters see, go through and understand. Dangerous, dangerous venture into grounds fertile for being labelled a one-trick pony.

Somehow, the English language just didn't cut it. Nothing beats listening to WKW-isms in its natural Chinese or Cantonese tongue, as it just sounds so lyrical. But in English, it sounds pretty much contrived and hokey, and losing that sense of romanticism that makes us fall in love, pity, identify with and just want to hug the characters. Probably the lack of confidence here in pulling it off in a foreign tongue had made the movie turn to recognizable stars for compensation, with the likes of Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and singing sensation Norah Jones, in her first big screen debut. Or trying to recreate the magic of what is Lee Pin Bing and Christopher Doyle's cinematography which somehow stuck out like a sore thumb (shots made behind glass seem to be a must-do here), and the intertitles seemed very out of place too.

My Blueberry Nights is made up of 3 distinct stories put together by having a character, Norah Jones' Elizabeth, journey through them all. Somehow, the strength is in its parts and not as a whole, and possibly references to Wong's earlier works were put in to mask the weak storyline. I have to give credit when it's due, and I thought the shorts go from strength to strength, bookended by Elizabeth's encounter with Law's Jeremy. It began with Elizabeth reeling from a bad case of having her boyfriend cheat on her, and in the ensuing break up, finds herself a regular at a diner operated by Jeremy. The first part might serve to be confusing as it trascends time, much like the need for taking visual cues from Maggie Cheung's cheongsam in ITMFL, and before you know it, a relatively intimate encounter makes Elizabeth journey off in a road trip.

Norah Jones adds a certain vulnerability to her Elizabeth, and I admire her character for taking time off to find herself and just to be sure, instead of plunging head long to another potential relationship (c'mon, it's Jude Law, you know?). And the part where she worked 2 jobs as a distraction so that her mind had less time to wander and wonder, is something I can totally agree with. To that, her character I do like and can identify, but the second short, while I thought narratively was OK, just had to have her interact with Strathairn's cop character Arnie, who himself is suffering from the pain of separation from his wife played by Rachel Weisz. Her Sue Lynne just had to ring a very close bell to Su(e) Li(nne) Zhen, in namesake and character wise, but how the short transpired and wrapped up, with a mention of love being stifling, earned my respect for it.

But at this point, you'll probably be looking at your watch, wondering just how long more the flashbacks to Wong's earlier movies will take. However, the coup de grace was Natalie Portman's Leslie, a card shark with trust issues. And it's a refreshing departure from boy-girl relationships, by having parental love put into play here. Of all the characters, I like her carefree, smooth/trash-talking one the best, and with her character keeping her cards close to her chest, I thought the confession to Elizabeth somewhat takes the cake too.

The cast all did a great job in fleshing out the WKW characters, but none I felt could touch the emotional richness that the Asian stars in WKW movies manage to bring out. As I mentioned earlier, this could be in a big part because of language. I would like though to commend on Jones. Not an actress by profession, she had done pretty well and Blueberry Nights, while she journeys with the characters through life and love issues, turns out to be more of an exercise for her in learning from the various thespians in the movie. Her Elizabeth can be cruel and heartless though, by leaving in a huff, and keeping in touch through one way channels in the writing of postcards, without way of a return address. While the movie might be running on an emotional tank testing the limits as the needle approaches E, I just love that million-takes lip lock between Law and Jones, and I thought that pretty much was worth the price of a ticket, really.

My Blueberry Nights is still delectable, except that when compared to the greatness of WKW's filmography, this seemed like pandering himself to Western audiences (there's no need to actually!) by (re)introducing them to his works done thus far, and in doing so, becomes a blip in the radar. With due respect to WKW, My Blueberry Nights should be treated like the Blueberry pie in the movie - made just in case, but most likely headed for the bin, unless you have a newbie come over, and you can find reason to serve it as an introduction to other soulful WKW epics.

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