Fikri Jermadi decides to have a taste of Wong Kar Wai’s American pie.
It costs roughly US$8 (8,000 원) to watch a movie in Korea. I say roughly, given my tendency to consider the Korean currency, 원 (won), and the U.S. dollar to be on par with one another. Furthermore, it helps to round things up, rather than get into the nitty gritty, and allows others a fair idea of the cost of living in Korea.
But yes, it costs US$8 to watch a movie in Korea. Not that I didn’t know this before; rather, I had miscalculated the ‘cheap’ day in Korea (turns out to be Wednesday, where tickets would have been around half price instead). Having already made the pilgrimage for Wong Kar Wai’s ‘My Blueberry Nights’, I coughed up the extra money, partly because I have long awaited the movie’s release, and also because I can’t be bothered to make the same trip again tomorrow.
The movie follows the story of Jeremy (Jude Law), a cafe owner in New York, and Elizabeth (Norah Jones), a girl who just broke up with her boyfriend. Seeking solace in each others company, they spend more and more time together, eating blueberry pie as they talk about life, love, the universe, and more.
After a while, however, Elizabeth leaves for another city, seeking new grounds on which to ‘find herself’, as well as to save money to buy a car. Her journey takes her almost all over America, working as various places as waitresses. On her journey, she meets other characters, such as Arnie (David Strathairn), a policeman dealing with the breakdown of his marriage to Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). She also becomes close to Leslie (Natalie Portman), a compulsive gambler. Throughout her journey, she keeps in touch with Jeremy by writing postcards back to him.
The success of anything in life, for the most part, is always dependent on the expectation, matched against the result. In short, what this means in this context is that I expected a Wong Kar Wai film, and a Wong Kar Wai film is exactly what I got. ‘Blueberry’ uses almost every trick in the book to broach unconventional realms. The director used elements such as sound, music, text, colour and even the frame rate of the camera to shake us into emotional connection with the character. Failing that, there’s always the night scenes to fall back on: vivid neon lights, often multicoloured, lighting up the screen. His love for playing around with the depth of field is also evident here. Few directors utilises the foreground and background as beautifully as he does. I think of Tony Scott, but Scott’s vision is quite often over the top, at times driving me to distraction rather than connection.
It’s a pity, then, that the story did not quite match up to the grandness of the imagination. Ultimately, it is a simple love story of boy meets girl. While I won’t give anything away, the predictability with which some lines and conclusions reach brings the movie down. Form and content, then, doesn’t match on the level of quality.
It’s a shame too, since the cast are generally on good form. Jude Law is Jude Law, essentially playing himself in a role that doesn’t really stretch him. Talented he may be, but any more of these roles may well sink him in the ‘Brit in America’ stereotype even further. Norah Jones, on the other hand, is not really given the chance to be engaged, with a 2D character whose predictability in action and dialogue is probably not really her fault. Apparently, the role was written for her, but she didn’t quite do as well as I thought she would. Nevertheless, with more training and experience, she may do better.
However, it is the supporting characters that grabs centre stage. David Strathairn’s portrayal of a down and out policeman is a further lesson of no matter how good looking you are, nothing beats talent and experience. I really felt sorry for his character, a man driven to the edge of depression by a nut-case of a wife. But what a wife she is! Rachel Weisz is simply stunning in her role. She appeared for probably all of twenty minutes, but her minutes (especially those shared with Jones) basically shocked me, showing another side of her ability. Thinking about it, I can’t recall her having played many American characters. On the basis of this performance, it would be a shame if she doesn’t take on more. Finally, Natalie Portman performed with sass and confidence, befitting that of a gambler. However, for some reason, I am reminded too much of Keira Knightley in ‘Domino’, which is probably not a good thing.
Finally, though it’s Wong Kar Wai’s first film in English, populated by Western actors set across America, all the major roles on the film are filled by Chinese people (or people who have Chinese-sounding names, looking at the credits at the end). Proof, if further needed, that cinema is becoming more globalised, as it should be. It may have cost me US$8 for the ticket, but it’s worth for the form, and a filmmaker on form, if not the content.
Fikri likes apple pie, and roti canai.
Featured image credit: CosmoCookie