My Blueberry Nights: Wong Kar-Wai goes to Hollywood, and why I am not amused.

Sort of a review, sort of long, a bit whiny, kind of spoilery.

Firstly: I don’t really know how long this movie has been out in the States. I’m guessing a while, as that’s how it normally works, but it just opened in my North European part of the outback, so heck, I’m going to talk about it. I saw it today, and as stated, I’m afraid that I have to report that I was less than amused.

Now, there is nothing like Wong Kar-Wai’s name in the director’s credit that can make me run, skip and jump to the theatre, so when My Blueberry Nights, the ace Hong Kong film maker’s first Hollywood outing, hit the screens, I was there with bells on. Sadly, I walked away feeling that frankly, there’s really nothing at all about this movie that doesn’t suck a huge, slippery cocksickle. Granted, it probably didn’t help that my expectations were somewhat stratospheric, considering that the triptych of Chunking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046 were works of nothing short of sublime fricking genius, real desert island stuff, the genuine article Great Movies, and anyone who thinks differently must be a moron. So there. All the more disappointing it is, then, that Wai’s first production on American soil falls on its face with a literally audible splat, much like a giant blueberry pie hitting the sidewalk. The reviews haven’t been great, and they are, by coincidence or a freak case of precision, right.

That said, I’ll grant you that a lousy movie by Mr. Wai isn’t exactly unheard of in the history of mankind, so it’s not a total shock. Certainly, the guy is what you would call an *occasional *genius. The rest of the time, well, no. Heck, even Chunking or 2046 seem to try to shoot themselves in the foot more than once or twice, lapsing into sins of cheesy plotting or clichéd characters (with In the Mood for Love perhaps the only one that is completely fantabulous throughout). However, those movies always quickly pull themselves up by their inherent amazingness, and when Wong Kar-Wai is good, he’s so damned good that he blows away just about everyone save Fellini or Bergman, and I guess I was just hoping he would keep that up with Blueberry. No such luck, however.

Now, the concept for My Blueberry Nights doesn’t actually look bad at first sight: We have on our hands a road movie / tale of chance encounters where a girl (Norah Jones) first bumps into a hunkalicous albeit melancholy owner of a New York coffee shop with a penchant for collecting other people’s keys (Jude Law), and spills her heart to him over huge amounts of blueberry pie. She then instantly proceeds to bugger off on a cross-country adventure from New York to Bumfuk, Nevada to do some soul-searching and get over her cheating-ass boyfriend, do some waitressing, and have chance encounters with oddball characters, including a drunkard police officer and his estranged wife, as well as a junior poker ace (Natalie Portman) who can play Thelma to her Louise (or was it the other way around - I can never get that straight), all the while leaving poor Jude back in NY, predictably unable to get her out of his mind. It doesn’t sound bad. Well, OK, come to think of it, that’s not true, it actually *does *sound rather bad, but it also sounds like echoes of *Chunking *transplanted cross-Pacific to the good old U.S, and a chance to sort of finally tell the story of what the heck Faye Wong actually got herself into anyway between buggering off to California on *that *soul-searching journey before arriving back at *that *diner way back when in ’94. Potential, my friends, is the key word here.

So, why, then, exactly, is this such a stinkaroo? Well, it’s not the visuals. Admittedly, the cinematographer (Darius Khondji) appears to be suffering from a spot of “watch me impersonate Chris Doyle by sticking the camera behind plates of glass and other places you don’t expect to find it for shits and giggles” disease, but heck, I’ll suck it up and say that some shots are bloody great, and suppose the movie looks better than about 98% of movies out there. Granted, considering the current state of 98% of other movies, that’s not really saying much, but, you know, still. It’s not the soundtrack, either, as that is actually pretty cool, too.

What, then? Well, firstly, it’s the *feel *of the thing, I suppose. For one thing, the movie just seems to try to damned hard too live up to its own expectations. It feels a bit like watching like a neurotic with erectile dysfunction O.D.-ing on Viagra but never getting himself into that spontaneous mood where he just lets it fly. If Wong Kar-Wai’s name hadn’t been in the credits, I would have guessed that this thing had been made by some half-assed Hollywood hack attempting to make a kinda sorta Wong Kar-Wai movie and failing. Now, that would have been bad in itself, I suppose. The fact that it’s Wong Kar-Wai himself attempting to make a kinda sorta Wong Kar-Wai movie, and cocking it up, is of course nothing short of a bona fide disaster. In trying too hard, the movie becomes limp and without bounce, like a too-frequently polished knob. Sure, it’s shiny, but heck, it’s just got no potency. The abovementioned trio of Hong Kong movies are fresh, springy, surprising. *Chunking *in particular is like one long peppermint shower of refreshingness right out of Unexpectedville. Blueberry Nights, in comparison, for some reason, is as drab as a weekend hike through Lame Uninspired County, Boringsylvania.

OK, let’s break it down. Some of the problem may have to do with the cast of gorgeous young megastars, in the shape of Norah Jones, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. Now, this kind of casting might not be a bad thing in principle. Wai’s Hong Kong productions were vehicles for gorgeous young Asian megastars, and that didn’t really hurt. However, this new bunch, while pretty, don’t seem to pack the same punch in the acting department as Tony Leung, Fay Wong or Maggie Cheung, to put in mildly, or possess even a percentage of the charisma or screen presence of said actors. Jude Law may be the sexiest thing to quadruple the average drool production not-to-mention-number-of-wet-seats in movie theaters worldwide since, well, *ever *(and his undeniably scale-blowing hunkiness may be the only excuse to go see this movie at all), but a Tony Leung he somehow still ain’t, and after seeing the latter play Marcello to Wai’s Fellini, if you will (how’s *that *for a high-brow reference) in three movies, I, for one, can’t help missing that. The fact that Jude for some inexplicable reason speaks with a fake Manchester accent doesn’t help. When Tony Leung first walks up to the fast food joint in Chunking, you’re reaching for the defibrillator (if you’re at all a warm-blooded human and not some member of the reptile species) and keeping it within reach until, well, after Cannes ‘04, at least. When Jude Law shows up, well, he shivers your timbers, but not enough that you are able to forget what a stupid movie he’s in. Norah Jones, bless her cute pumpkin heart, is sporting a puppy face and Bambi eyes throughout and sadly can’t act her ass out of the proverbial paper bag. Her best moments are spent with her head slumped on the counter in Jude’s New York coffee shop, a zoom lens with soft focus stuck to her trembling and undeniably kissable ice-cream-stained lips. In that position, at least she doesn’t have to say anything, because the second she does, she invariably cocks the scene up. And let’s not even get into Ms. Portman. Firstly, we’re all sick of her these days anyway (aren’t we?), and secondly, she seems to be treating this outing mostly as an exercise in Fake Accents and General Overacting 101, so sod her. The real actors are in the support cast, who don’t get enough screen time, so so much for that.

Actually, though, I shouldn’t really press the point about acting (or shamelessly blabber on homo- and/or heteroerotically like this about Jew and Norah) for too long, because it’s not really the actors’ fault. Actually, Norah (bless her huggable little tush) probably passed out on that counter from either boredom or embarrassment caused by the frankly atrocious groan-fest that passes for dialogue, which has all the poetry and insight of a day time soap opera and all the cheesiness of a ripe Camenbert (and where the hell did *that *particular phenomenon suddenly come from in a Wai movie?). That none of the poor guys had to be stretchered off the set at some point with intense pain from a bout of “do I actually have to *say *this shit?” is frankly hard to believe. Not to mention the fact that it frequently doesn’t make any damned sense, like when Norah, writing a post card to Jude, tells him “I always felt like I could tell you everything”. Norah, bless your sweet knickers, you knew the guy for what, a day?

Plotwise, the setting, as said, is that of a road movie, and here’s another problem coming right up. Heck, we’ve seen road movies two and a half bazillion times already. They have to be pretty darn out of the orninary to make an impact, and sadly, this one, on the contrary, seems to have gone on a shopping spree in the cliché department of roadside Americana, discount obviousness section, shelf B. For some reason, nothing *interesting *happens. Ever. The staples of American roadside pop culture are paraded endlessly for no obvious reason, and the roadside cafés, the cars, the towns, the landscapes and the drunken supporting characters are all stereotypical to the point of being comical. Mainly, however, it all feels strained. We never really give a rat’s twat about the characters (and pardon me if I’m sounding repetitive, but where did *that *effect come from in a Wong Kar-Wai movie?) beyond wishing them out of their dialogue-imposed misery, the melancholy never feels remotely real, and we just don’t really care. The story feels incoherent and without narrative or emotional consistency. Norah’s various encounters in Boondocksville never link with each other or with the main plot in any way. Now, the episodic form can be a good idea. In 2046, it’s bloody great. In that movie, the episodes were all thematically linked and made up a whole greater than the parts. Here, however, it’s all just a random selection of shit that Norah writes about in her postcards because, well, she could’t think of anything better, I guess. No real character development is discernable. When Norah returns, Jude, while looking curiously underwhelmed, informs her that he thinks she has changed, or perhaps it is he who has changed, or some sort of standard bildungsroman business like that. Well, screw, I guess he has to say that, because that’s what the story is *supposed *to be about, but it is, frankly, bollocks. As far as I could tell, Norah didn’t as much as get a haircut. She goes away, comes back, and now they are somehow able to love each other. All well and good, except that for all the personal growth either of them appear to actually have been through, she might as well just have popped down to the corner for some fags.

Also, by the way, there are a heck of a lot of people *eating *in this movie (in fact, they can’t seem to ever stop stuffing their faces), all in a very suggestive and sensual sort of way, so if you have a problem with watching that for some reason, you are hereby warned. I wish I could have seen at least one of them go to the loo even once, though. All that pie and pork chops must be weighing them down after a while.

So, what am I saying? Well, I guess something like: Wong, old pal, nice effort, I suppose, but try again, with less nerves and more fresh ideas, somehow. And when come back, perhaps don’t bring pie.*

*(Well, come on, you know I had to say it.)

Oh, and make that sentence “shamelessly blabber on homo- and/or heteroerotically like this about **Jude **and Norah”.
Honest typo, I swear. I need the edit function extended to 30 minutes…

I’m a massive Wong Kar Wai fan & having read the reviews & noted that Christopher Doyle didn’t do the cinematography, I wasn’t expecting much from it. But I was pleasantly surprised. It isn’t a great film, & it’s Wong’s worst in a while, but that isn’t saying much. It is good & compared to most films out there it was a Saturday afternoon better spent. [COMPULSIVE VENTING] & after last week seeing that godawful excuse for a film, There Will Be Blood, (I didn’t pay to see that mustachioed carpenter impersonate Popeye!) I was glad for anything to refresh my filmgoing palate. [/COMPULSIVE VENTING]

Having re-read my first paragraph, I suppose I am damning with faint praise. But I did like the film.

I come from Manchester & I thought that Jude Law’s accent is very good. He nailed a north east Manchester, more specifically accent from Oldham or somewhere nearby. At least, he sounded exactly like someone I know from round there. & I mean indistinguishable. It freaked me out a bit.

ETA: It is the first film in which I have enjoyed a Jude Law performance.

My Blueberry Nights opened in Bangkok a week and a half ago. The wife and I watched it yesterday (Saturday) and enjoyed it immensely. We hope Norah Jones will do more movies. I think some people may just be hard to please.

It had the same feel to us, moodwise, as Wong Kar Wai’s excellent In the Mood for Love. That one, BTW, was shot largely in Bangkok, because a lot of the old Bangkok neighborhoods have a 1960s Hong Kong look. Hong Kong simply does not look like Hong Kong anymore.

I don’t know how germane this is to the thread, but when Himself and I watched 2046 we didn’t know for the first 40 minutes or so that the aspect ratio was cutting off the second line of the subtitles.

We found it much more poetic that way than when we backed it up and got the whole thing. :slight_smile: Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the movie - but the half-the-subtitle thing was really sublime. “What do you think they mean by that?”