In the mood for Wong Kar Wai

Starting Friday and running for 10 days, the 44th Thessaloniki International Film Festival will be presenting 200 recent films from around the globe alongside sections on established international filmmakers. The tributes are to Georgian auteur Otar Iosseliani (who will be present at the festival as president of the International Jury), the late Portuguese director Joao Cesar Monteiro, Greece’s Nikos Panayiotopoulos and a newer arrival, Hong Kong cult filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. Wong, 45, is considered one of Asia’s most innovative directors. With over 16 films (seven of which are better known) under his belt, he has already developed a very distinctive style. His last four especially – «Chungking Express» (1994), «Fallen Angels» (1995), «Happy Together» (1997) and «In the Mood for Love» (2000) – gained him widespread popularity in the West with audiences and critics alike. In a recent telephone interview with Kathimerini from Hong Kong, Wong discussed his new film, «2046,» which is currently in post-production, and outlined some of the influences of his work. «In 1997 the Chinese government promised 50 years of change,» he explained. «So I thought I would make a film about these ‘promises’ and set it 50 years later (2046), investigating the things that have not changed.» You also investigate loneliness and desire a lot in your films. How does a director express an emotion, such as desire? I don’t think loneliness is something special. It is part of our lives. Nor do I believe that the characters of «In the Mood for Love» or «Happy Together» are miserable because they are alone. In any case, this is how societies are structured today. We have to accept it and take advantage of its positive side. You have to try to be happy and this is what I wanted to say in «Happy Together.» In «In the Mood for Love,» I am talking about suppressed desires… Your films have a distinctive Asian feel, but are also very European in style. Do you feel torn between the two worlds? I grew up in Hong Kong, a city that combines both Asian and Western culture. We are Chinese, but we wake up in a society where English is completely natural. We also have a chance to see a lot of movies from the West. The West is already a part of me, even though I may not be conscious of it… You often speak of the influence of Antonioni, Godard and Truffaut. Did their films help you develop your own style? They opened new roads… not just to me. They showed a different way of filming to many directors… We have all been influenced by them one way or another. Can you define the influences (literature, music, art) behind the particular visual environment you create? I came to Hong Kong when I was 5 years old. I don’t have any relatives here and I don’t speak Cantonese. The language barrier was always there. I spent a lot of time with my mother, watching movies, reading and listening to the radio. I was impressed by the variety of stimuli in the city. I don’t think that I can narrow down which influenced me the most. You were born in Shanghai, grew up in Hong Kong and made a film in Latin America. Which is your favorite city and why? When I was in Argentina [filming «Happy Together»], I kept looking for places that looked familiar. Like in Shanghai or Hong Kong. I realized that all cities have similarities. You can find similar corners everywhere. All the cities I have been to look familiar because I have encountered them before through cinema. Paris, Berlin, these are cities that we have seen so many times… Like old friends. Do you view new cities as a traveler or a film director? Both. I like being a traveler because I am curious. When my parents first moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong, they made it clear that it was not our permanent home and we may have to move again. I have felt like a traveler my whole life. When I go to a new city though, I look at it with the eyes of a director. Do you think there is innovation in today’s cinema? You don’t think about being innovative when you make a movie. It just happens. It comes naturally. If you are, you will make something innovative. It’s pointless to scratch your head, trying to be different. A good artists does not think about what other people are thinking, but of what he is thinking himself. Why do you think you are described as an innovator? One reason is the manner in which we work. It’s very different from Hollywood. We have a small team, enough time at our disposal and work as a family. We have the luxury to do what we want. When directors produce their own films, it is hard on the one hand, but on the other, they have the advantage of being able to turn difficulties to their advantage. What limits do you set on cinema? That films must end in 90 minutes! Limits form a structure, but that does not mean you have to stay within the structure. It’s just a starting point. The most important thing in directing is making choices. Limits create certain choices, so you can start from there. On a different note, how do you view the recent flux in Asian cinema? I was expecting this question… First of all, I believe that Hollywood is always dominant. That means the audience is addicted to a certain type of narrative. An Asian film, is, as a rule, very different from a Hollywood film and this, I think, is what attracts audiences. Most people have a stereotypical view of Asia, but the past few years have seen huge changes. Nowadays, Shanghai is as modern as Tokyo and New York. Korean cinema has changed because the government recently lifted many bans and taboos. Just like all films, Asian cinema reflects social change. Today it represents the same things Italian cinema did after World War II. This interview has been edited and translated from the Greek text.