Dialogue: Wong Kar Wai
The Festival de Cannes' best director award winner in 1997 for "Happy Together" and president of the Competition jury in 2006, Wong Kar Wai returns to the Croisette today to open the 2007 festival with his first English-language film, "My Blueberry Nights." Starring Jude Law and singer Norah Jones in her first big-screen role, "Nights" took Wong -- who has long worked from his home base in Hong Kong -- nearly all the way across America, from New York to Tennessee to Nevada. Busy editing the film, Wong pulled away over several days to catch up with The Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: What drew you to the "Blueberry Nights" story in the first place?
Wong Kar Wai: After spending five years on "2046," I felt like doing something entirely different. I also wanted to make a film about distance and see how I would work in a new environment. It was a personal challenge and also an excuse to see the real America.
THR: Music has been a powerful part of the feel of films of yours like "Happy Together," and now you're working with a famous singer as an actress. What music features in "Blueberry Nights"? Will any of Norah Jones' or her father's music be in the soundtrack, and, if so, is it original?
Wong: I'm not using any of Norah's music in the film. We both agreed that we want the audience to see her as Norah Jones, the actress. Music plays a large role in the film, but I don't want to spoil it for you.
THR: Do you fall in love with your leading ladies, and are you in love with Jones? What about her finished acting onscreen is different from your early expectations?
Wong: I love all my actors. There would be no reason to work with them otherwise. Norah truly defied my expectations. She is a very natural actress with great emotional instincts.
THR: What are your feelings on Cannes? Do you look forward to returning? What's your favorite place in the city? A bar? A theater? A certain stretch of beach? A restaurant?
Wong: Cannes is always an interesting experience for me. Last year I was the jury president, and two years before that I was rushing to the festival with the print of "2046." Fortunately, this year, the opening-night slot guarantees I will be there early. Either that or the organizers are just taking an incredible leap of faith. I have a favorite Chinese restaurant in the area. Do I really have to give you the name?
THR: What does the title of the film refer to?
Wong: The meaning is actually quite literal.
THR: Now that it's done, how do you rate this film in relation to your previous works? What about in relation to other recent films, both from Hong Kong and elsewhere?
Wong: Personally, I like it very much. I consider it a sort of homage to the American cinema and literature that influenced my decision to become a filmmaker. It's very different from "Spider-Man 3."
THR: Did your basic directing process change much in directing your first wholly English-language film? How? Was it harder? A welcome challenge?
Wong: It was definitely interesting and a concern at first since I was working with a different language and in a new landscape. But I fortunately discovered that certain emotions transcend words.
THR: What's next film-wise? Life-wise? Jones-wise? Will you work with her again?
Wong: I have a few projects in development, but it'll be a while before I make any final decisions. I'd love to work with Norah again. I'm curious to see the road she takes as an actress.
THR: Compare for us working with your longtime cinematographer Chris Doily to working with Darius Khondji. What's new, different? How did Khondji change your working style? What did he see that you might have missed? Do you miss Doyle and plan to work with him again?
Wong: Chris used to be a sailor, so he's a very rough-and-tumble "man's man." Darius, on the other hand, is more of a European gentleman. We drank a lot of tea together during the shoot. It was a nice change of pace. If the right project came along and the timing is right, I would love to do something with Chris again.
THR: Why is the Weinstein Co. the right company to sell this film in the U.S.? How are they going to do it and do you care to have much say in that side of the business?
Wong: Harvey Weinstein had released my earlier film "Chungking Express" under their Rolling Thunder banner with Quentin Tarantino. They did a brilliant job marketing it and introducing me to American moviegoers. I'm sure they will do another amazing job with the new one.
THR: In November, it was reported that Jude Law steals a lingering kiss from Jones in a scene that took many takes, and that you then were considering adding a second such kiss. Did you and did it make the final cut?
Wong: (laughs) You have done your homework. The answer to your question may still happen. I'm still in the editing room.
THR: Please describe working with Law while pretending that nobody ever would read what you said. Quick, first words that come to mind, please.
Wong: Talented and sophisticated. He was my first choice, and I couldn't have imagined anyone else in his role.
THR: Could you ever live in Memphis and why or why not? What's your favorite Tennessee Williams work and why?
Wong: I could live in Memphis. The summer there is very similar to Hong Kong. "A Streetcar Named Desire" is my favorite. I don't think masterpieces require an explanation.
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