Monday, 19th August 2019

Why Wai & Hong Kong Cinema Lead The Way.

Posted on 15. Nov, 2011 by in Directors

Why Wai & Hong Kong Cinema Lead The Way.

Margaret Pomeranz speaks to Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai about his extensive filmmaking career, covering films such as CHUNGKING EXPRESS, FALLEN ANGELS, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and his most recent film 2046.
WONG KAR WAI: I was born in Shanghai and I came to Hong Kong when I was five. So one of the reasons I wanted to make films about the 60s is, by the time I get to Hong Kong it’s 1963 and it is a new experience for me because the two cities are very different. My brothers and sisters stayed in Shanghai.
MARGARET POMERANZ: And they couldn’t get out because of the Cultural Revolution?
MARGARET POMERANZ: I mean, that virtually turned you into an only child?
WONG KAR WAI: Right, exactly. Because my mother has a very big family in Shanghai, so I have, like, almost 40 cousins, so we stayed together all the time. So by the time I get to Hong Kong I become the only child and the only one, surrounded by adults, you know. I keep writing letters. My parents asked me to write letters to my brothers and sisters, and I read all the time. So afterwards, when I work in the TV stations, I start writing scripts.
MARGARET POMERANZ: That was a time when you actually did see a lot of cinema, wasn’t it?
WONG KAR WAI: Right. Because my mother liked movies a lot. So we’re living in that area, which has a lot of cinemas with different, like, western films, Hollywood films, European films, local films, so we spent almost every day in the cinemas because she don’t have any friends or relatives in Hong Kong.
MARGARET POMERANZ: So the cinema was company?
MARGARET POMERANZ: Another world for her?
WONG KAR WAI: Yes, exactly.
MARGARET POMERANZ: For both of you?
MARGARET POMERANZ: Where was the leap, then, for you, from television into feature films?
WONG KAR WAI: It’s seamless, because it’s almost like you just work, not in a station, but in a coffee shop and you have all these meetings in the coffee shop. I think one day I can make a book about coffee shops in Hong Kong. I spent almost most of my time in coffee shops, in different coffee shops.
MARGARET POMERANZ: Meeting with people, talking with people?
WONG KAR WAI: Yes, that’s right.
MARGARET POMERANZ: Did you write there?
WONG KAR WAI: Yes. So it became a habit. So later on, when I became a director, I worked, like on CHUNGKING EXPRESS, we’re shooting in Tsim Sha Tsui, one area in Hong Kong, we shoot in the night time, and this restaurant, which I liked very much, in the basement of Holiday Inn Hotel, so I stayed there. Every morning I’d the script of that day and then we’d start shooting at night. We have all this production meeting there.
It’s 1988 or ’89, I think. It’s right after A BETTER TOMORROW, the John Woo film. Everybody in Hong Kong, at that time, makes gangster films. So the producer asked me, “Do you want to make a gangster film? I know you have some stories.” So I said yes. So we started AS TEARS GO BY.
It’s supposed to be a gangster film.
MARGARET POMERANZ: It’s a gangster film with a love story.
WONG KAR WAI: It’s not that gangster. By the standard of that time, you know, there is no raincoat, there is no Chow Yun-Fat with two guns, you know. The reason we decided to make CHUNGKING EXPRESS is after ASHES OF TIME.
This is the first film that we produced ourselves. It is a huge film, with 10 cast, and it takes three years. It becomes at certain points you think it’s too much. If you want to make films you need to have fun, so we decided to make a film like a student film, with a very low budget, with only limited time, three weeks, and then we shot the film. So it is a wonderful experience. We don’t have any permits, so we shot the film entirely with handheld and existing light source. We shoot in certain areas in Hong Kong and we just break in and shot and go. It’s like an operations. It’s a lot of fun.
MARGARET POMERANZ: I heard actually, I don’t know whether this is true, that you actually shot CHUNGKING EXPRESS while you were editing ASHES. Is that true?
WONG KAR WAI: Exactly. Because the thing is, we complete shooting of ASHES OF TIME in around April, and the film was going to Venice that year, so that would be October. So that means we have a few months. Either we can have a break or working on the post productions, or we can use that time slot to make a film, so we decided to make a film.
CHUNGKING EXPRESS, to me, it’s like a postcard of Hong Kong.
MARGARET POMERANZ: During this time you’re developing a very distinctive visual style.
WONG KAR WAI: I’m not very aware of styles. We never talk about styles before we start shooting, or even during shooting, because I think the film will bring you there.
Each production has certain circumstances that will bring you to a certain way of making it. It is not intentional, it is not an artistic decision, the way we make films, it is the way we address to our problems. Like, Chris Doyle used to be a very slow DP. When I work with him on my second film DAYS OF BEING WILD he just started his career in Hong Kong. He’s extremely slow and he’s very serious. So when we’re shooting CHUNGKING EXPRESS I said, “Chris, take away all these tripods, put the camera on your shoulders and work like a CNN.” For him it’s very hard, but somehow it liberated him, you know.
He realised this is something that he is really good at, instead of trying to be a Hou Hsiao-Hsien film, or a serious I think all of us has a certain perception of ourself, but at the end you realise you are not that person, you have to be yourself. In fact, like the way we shoot, with a 12 frame per seconds, or jump cut, everything, it’s because we’re shooting without any permits. So some people just get in, which we don’t expect it so you have to cut it out, and we put the film together like this and it becomes the star.
Sometimes people think, “Well, why don’t you work with a script?” I said, “The script is only a part of this process. It’s only the foundations. It is only a blueprint.” If a script is good enough, then you should be a writer, make it into a novel. Cinema has certain qualities, and it’s the image. Sometimes this image has its own breathing or tempo. It has to linger, and will linger because you want to have more. It is very instinctive. It is very instinctive when you’re shooting the shots in front of this video, the monitor, you know exactly, because sometimes it takes you more than 10 takes or 15 takes.
Some people will ask, “Are there any big differences? Can you tell the difference?” I say, “You try.” You can show me two weeks later and I can still tell you which take is the take that I want because it’s the very minor details. But, in fact, it’s a big difference. Because a shot also is like love, it’s about timing; a certain moment in the right place, in the right light, in the right movement, this shot will become memorable.
MARGARET POMERANZ: Do you like the editing process? Because, I mean, I imagine 2046…
WONG KAR WAI: I like it very much. It’s the most enjoyable parts.
MARGARET POMERANZ: Because you are playing with a lot of the elements there, aren’t you?
WONG KAR WAI: At that time that means you are dealing with only one person, the operators. You can do whatever you want.
MARGARET POMERANZ: So a lot of people say that. Peter Greenaway says that; that he just goes through the process of everything else so he can get to the editing room.
WONG KAR WAI: Yes, exactly. Afterwards, the most enjoyable part is the final weeks. That means you put everything together, the sound, the images and everything to create a film.
MARGARET POMERANZ: What’s that moment like?
WONG KAR WAI: Oh, it’s, it’s beyond words.
MARGARET POMERANZ: Do you know at that moment?
WONG KAR WAI: Yes, of course.
WONG KAR WAI: In fact it’s very exciting. I think one of the reasons you keep making films is because you want to experience that part again and again.
(courtesy of At The Movies)


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