17 February 2008

In the Mood for...

My Blueberry Nights – dir. Wong Kar-Wai – 2007 – France/Hong Kong/China

The best understanding I can make of Wong Kar-Wai’s English-language debut can be pulled directly from its soundtrack. Though it features obligatory tunes from two of the cast members (Norah Jones and Chan Marshall of Cat Power), listen out for a jazzy rendition of the achingly beautiful score from In the Mood for Love and a female vocalist covering Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” What does that mean exactly? My Blueberry Nights feels like a well-meaning cover song, aesthetically pleasing but without the passion of coming from the person who wrote it.

Upon reading some of the message boards for My Blueberry Nights, I found myself strangely drawn to one that commented how strange it feels seeing a WKW film without an Asian cast. Though it would seem like a superficial complaint, there’s something indeed off about the cast of My Blueberry Nights and, surprisingly, it’s not from Jones who makes her acting debut here. There’s a certain visual landscape that’s so easily recognizable in a WKW film (though one will undoubtedly note that his famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle was not present here) that taking it outside of Hong Kong would be potentially dangerous; he successfully avoided this issue with setting Happy Together in Buenos Aires, but not so much here. Though Doyle is absent, Darius Khondji (who has shot a number of impressive features, including City of Lost Children, The Beach and Seven) does his best to adapt to Doyle’s style, though one would remark that their styles aren’t exactly foreign to one another. Unfortunately for us, the closest thing to downtown Hong Kong, visually speaking, would be Las Vegas, and when My Blueberry Nights finally reaches that city, it stays far away from the images we’d quickly associate with Sin City.

Back to the cast… It would seem that My Blueberry Nights would be a curious star vehicle for the Grammy winner Jones whose fans I doubt were begging to put her into motion pictures. However, it’s Jones that’s the least offensive of the “round-eyed” cast. One could suggest the language barrier as being an issue, particularly when dealing with trained actors, which is how I would imagine Jones got by. With Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz (who plays a character named Sue Lynn, a variation on Maggie Cheung’s name in In the Mood for Love) and Natalie Portman, their pedigree seems wasted, appearing awkward in adapting to WKW’s style. Jones, too, may have benefited from the fact that her Lizzie really only serves as the roadmap for My Blueberry Nights, the central figure who’s always placed into the background of the people she encounters.

My Blueberry Nights is hardly a disaster, but any fan of WKW should be quick to recognize the shakiness of the whole thing. Everything is seemingly in place yet strangely missing heart. WKW’s once infallible filmography has been reaching rocky ground in the years after In the Mood for Love, with 2046 somehow missing the mark (though there’s debate about that) and My Blueberry Nights swerving off course. Perhaps he’s falling into the trap that a lot of directors slip into: the sad stage of unintentional self-parody.

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