MH Asia – 14/7/08


Colin Moore has a Blueberry Night


It’s a start. Besides one or two principally art house theaters (Cine Cube) here in Seoul, at least one of the glossier multiplexes, CGV Yongsan, is starting to show Korean films with foreign subtitles. There’ll be four this year. “My Sassy Girl” star and Samsung phone model Jeon Ji-hyeon’s latest “A Man Once a Superman,” was one of the first. There’ll be more to follow, including a Korean rip of the bandit treasure epic with “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird.” Copy. Remake. Alternate adaptation. Whatever the words, it should do the business it’s expected to do in June with a trio of Korea’s biggest stars heading it, Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Jung Woo-sung. Director Park Chan-wook’s (“Oldboy”) latest will also be in the line up.

Wong Kar Wai has nothing to worry about this time around. “My Blueberry Nights” is his first English language film. It opened the Cannes Festival last year. Norah Jones stars as Elizabeth, a recent heartbreak victim. The cheating half that she calls her boyfriend is…cheating. She gets the official confirmation from diner proprietor Jeremy (Jude Law), who not only remembers him but that steak and beans were on the menu. He’s quick enough to mention that the two dinners her man ordered wasn’t for just himself, just the news you break to a girl that’s on edge. The info is contrived but conveniently advances Elizabeth into her ten-point post-breakup program, anger followed by rashness, melancholy, a sense of the abrupt finality, and then mourning. Blueberry pie is served somewhere between steps 3 and 5.

Jeremy is a gentleman with a kind ear. He lets Elizabeth sulk and hang out after hours, giving her his own theories on love and loss. He keeps a fish bowl full of keys to ex-lovers’ homes and apartments, like hers, behind the counter, each with a sad story he can tell on request. So why does he keep them? According to him, who is he to get in the way of a possible reunion. A slice of cheese on the pie, but at least it gives a predictable way to show us when the leads have stowed their emotional baggage. It’s as easy as tossing the keys. All the same, a gimmicky tidbit that Wong seems to favor in his Cantonese films, physical and verbal analogies that make sure we get it the point. For foreign films with English subtitle issues, they tend to be helpful.

Elizabeth needs to get away. She travels across the country to clear her head, working in bars and diners, maintaining that feeling of self-reflection that began in our N.Y. diner: mood lighting and glasswear, droaning jazz and the salty clientelle. If the film does anything well, it’s to ease the viewer into the setting and confirm that these are still two of the coolest places to hang out. Even when nothing happens there’s something about ice in tumblers, booze, and strangers with their heads in their hands that makes you feel alive in the company of others’ drama.

We’re shown two of Elizabeth’s adventures in detail, the first in Memphis, as a waitress by day, bartender by night. David Strathairn is Arnie, and like a handful of other Wong Kar Wai woebegone males, a cop. He’s a man drowning his liver in sorrows by night over a lost love. Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) is that love, the separated wife whose chosen to hang off younger slabs of meat in tighter jeans. She can make an entrance that’d turn a severed head, but there’s luggage behind her tired twangy voice. Elizabeth has a minor role in comforting both of them, but is mainly there to watch. Finally there’s Leslie (Natalie Portman), a sassy gambling addict with trust issues who plays everyone in her life like the game, with a poker face. Their screen time is limited but just long enough to make a point: there’s heartache all over the world. But proving that point pushes Jeremy and Elizabeth into the background. If their love story is meant to drive the film to the ending shown on the poster, it doesn’t have the gusto. Hold that thought.

“27 Dresses” is the stuff of fluff, a comedy that opened this past week, sharing something in common with Rambo in terms of tickets sold and the mute reception during. It might have something over on “Blueberry” in the romance department though. Katherine Heigl is Jane, a model employee and doormat for anyone who needs anything. She’s a whirlwind with a day planner. Her boss George (Edward Burns), is the all around picture of swellness, the big brother-eco-friendly-red meat-shunner, a perfect man for someone. Jane is hoping it’s her. But the film has a gimmick of its own. The 27 dresses of the title is the number of times Jane has planned and stood as bridesmaid for her friends. She has the oversized closet packed with laughable gowns to prove it. If she only had the guts to tell her boss what she wants is to be his honey bun.

Tess does. She’s the younger, blonder, Cameron Diazier sister who steals George away the minute Jane is about to spill her guts. No biggie. Jane’s truer love is Malcolm (“X-Men”‘s James Marsden), a toothy New York wedding columnist. He slys his way into writing a story on Tess and George as a way of getting to Jane, the better story. Always a bridesmaid, never the bride, 27 times over. That’s the story he’s after. But how can a girl this gorgeous and giving not even so much as have the convertible driving, khaki pants’d sleeze-bag boyfriend that thrives in these films? Maybe the better question is how Jane and Malcolm manage to generate what Elizabeth and Jeremy can’t.

It’s never one thing. Unfortunately for “Blueberry,” Wong’s love of the camera and its possibilities throws the first 30 minutes into the same energetic exercise he used in “Chungking Express,” with fast motion effects, cameras peeping around door frames and through neon blurred windows. It’s a character of its own that’s not much interested in letting Elizabeth and Jeremy connect. “27 Dresses” at least benefits from the standard comedy look: high key lighting and a camera that lets the actors act. Heigl and Marsden prove they’re up to it. But for “Blueberry,” there are problems beyond Wong’s technical choices.

Norah Jones does an admirable job for a debut but she’s not capable of carrying this film. Her inexperience does the most damage in her first scenes with Jude Law, the time to establish Elizabeth as a soul in pain enough to run away for a year of healing. It’s not there. Wong’s “Days of Being Wild” gives the more mastered example of how lovers can be made and torn apart, with emotional impact, and in minutes. What we’re left with in the pie movie though is Wong’s signature visual palette (still a pleasure) and a simple message. As a love story, don’t expect fireworks. By the time Elizabeth returns from her awakening she’s just getting warmed up. If there any romance, it’s in the story that rolls after you leave.

Either New Yorkers are a very emotional bunch or they just enjoy making a public show it, slamming their keys on counters, forcing the guy who slices your pie and asks you if you’d “like a beverage with that” to be the middle man between you and the source of your pain.

Fantasy colored, where drunk cops pull guns on their wives in plain public view and are still permitted to hang around for last call. Old customer or not,

You ease into it.
bars and coffee shops…might take a second look next time you
what everyone else already knows

red lit pub and late night diners with stools and cases of pastries.
as good a place as any to nurse a broken heart, or find a sympathetic ear
when she opposite of stage characters exaggerated for effect; she’s as bland as the Wong’s color palette is activ scenes that advance the idea

The message is wrapped like a hockey stick in Christmas paper: love is gained and lost by its own rules. It doesn’t deal in time schedules.

, jar with keys…hanging on moving on is as simple as Jeremy getting rid of the bowl
Always a sadder story always a similar story, more tragic story

no point except to show what he’s been showing Asian audiences for years, but better
Jones does what she can to
stale as the rest of them
the less overt than ever is his camera placement, filming though blurred neon and ducking behind obstacles
if it’s to cover up the lack of chemistry it doesn’t hide enough
Jones; at the time best used to create real these two together…does the opposite
as much as dry ice and bubble machine, waving sparklers in front of a funeral procession provides focus to what’s really going on this is distracting
Wong War Kai makes his point in screaming strokes for his first American film. Elizabeth’s journeys prove the point that there is in fact heartache all over the world (elton). It’s the love waiting at the end of it all that’s hard to believe.

meant to end in love, Too convenient to be enjoyed too much…Sin City episodic without much of the sin
People getting through the bumps…his cues are bigger then the bumps.

Shared pie, they’re meant to be together if he wants to say this is the way people are, it’s a colorful way to do it, but not more.
Jones passes her keys off to……

handing them off to the closest counter jockey, is the best choice, but it’s a convenient way to show the couple’s dirty laundry has been washed, dried, and bagged up by the curb. It’s a simple as throwing the jar away.