Thursday, June 26, 2008


Chinese director Wong Kar Wai has made a superb reputation and career off of romantic tales that range from kinetic (Chungking Express) to ethereal (Days of Being Wild) to downright melancholic (In the Mood For Love). The man knows how to make his actors look like movie stars, put together a classy and effective soundtrack out of pop tunes, how to make the images sear into the brain (it never hurts that he has always had ace cinematographers) and how to achieve a finer vintage of melodrama. You may or may not know just how many Hollywood movies, TV commercials and Music Videos have borrowed his step-printing ('watercolour slow motion') technique. He has been highly influential, although not really known outside of arty film circles.

His latest film, the first full length feature in English, My Blueberry Nights, was raked over the coals critically. The critical community found it too repetitive of his previous films (but really, as an auteur, he has been making the same film (in a way) over and over, so I do not buy this criticism, and for that matter, I didn't buy it with the slamming of Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited either) or didn't buy the wistful 'only in the movies' actions and decisions. You know, how folks used to behave in the old MGM musicals or films in the 1940s. It's their loss though. Quite simply this was the best theatrical experience I've had in the cinema thus far in 2008. It is curious that a film with such a high profile cast would only play for couple weeks on one screen in Toronto. C'est La Vie. I guess it's just how it goes

The film's lead performance however is pop-jazz singer Norah Jones, who is the passive witness to the trials and tribulations of the other characters as she treks across most of America, to as she puts it, 'merely cross a certain street in New York'.

The movie wears its metaphors and symbols as thickly as Wong Kar Wai's other films, in fact much of the criticisms leveled at the movie should have been put to rest with the Norah Jones song used in the film. "The Story" gives the directors intent clear as the many neon signs that caress the frame of Darius Khondji's stunning digital cinematography.

"I don't know how to begin
Cause the story
Has been told before
I will sing
Along I suppose
I guess
It's just how it goes"

This type of story may have been told (by wkw and others) many times before, but man it is a sumptuous treat this time around nonetheless. The opening shots of blueberry pie and vanilla ice-cream in closeups almost to the point of a petri dish set the stage to the kind of sugary confection on display. And it is meant to be enjoyed that way, not as a revelation, but as a comforting hug on a rainy night.

"But I don't know how
It will end
With all those
Records playin'
I guess
It's just how it goes"

The ending isn't as important as the journey. And this film, spanning iconic USA locations (New York, Memphis, Las Vegas) through the unique vision of a foreigner; savouring its charming dialogue readings from Jude Law (in stellar form), its angry-melancholy from academy award winner and nominees Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn (respectively) and its sass and showboating (and the best performance in a while) from Natalie Portman, makes the journey (the sights and sounds and texture more than the actual discoveries) more than worth the trip.

"I guess it's just how it goes"