IGN Movies: In earlier interviews you talked about the fact that Ashes of Time Redux is actually shorter than the original 1994 version. What themes or ideas did you want to make sure you wanted to preserve as you revisited this film, particularly since you had lost certain film elements when you went back to restore it?
Wong Kar Wai: It was not that easy because the film was in a very delicate balance in the original version, so once a certain piece is missing, the film doesn't make sense in a way. I had to stick to the original idea, but it's not only just take out the parts which are impossible to restore; I had to take a bit more and replace it with some other materials to keep the balance.
IGN: Does that mean it was more of a structural reconstruction rather than a stylistic or thematic one?
Wong: It's almost like a ritual, when you go to like a full dinner that's very elaborate – you have a five-course meal. But now maybe it's not five-course; it's four-course but it gives you the same food in a more straightforward way.
IGN: Asian directors seem to have to have a martial arts film in their filmography, or so it seems. Either at the time you made it or in retrospect, is that a tradition that you were eager or reluctant to embrace with this film?
Wong: Ashes of Time was my third film and as a young director at that point, it's not very often that you have the chance to make a big martial arts film so of course I jumped at this opportunity. I think the martial arts tradition has a big influence on our generation – we all read these novels when we were very young – so when we have this opportunity, why not?
IGN: Were there other films or filmmakers who inspired you when you were first tackling this material?
Wong: Just like I said, I think this film is not just about Chinese martial arts because I'm not sure there would be a second chance. At this point I just want to put as much as I know about this genre; it's not only Chinese martial arts, it's Japanese samurai films, there's spaghetti westerns. So in a way people always refer to me like, "this is Shakespeare versus Sergio Leone in Chinese."
IGN: Takashi Miike recently did Sukiyaki Western Django which is a hybrid of many of those elements as well.
Wong: He's making a Western in a Japanese way.
IGN: It's been argued that genre films afford filmmakers a built-in audience but allow them to exercise their creativity – to manipulate the conventions of that genre. Was that the case for you with Ashes of Time or do you feel like you had created a distinctive style by the time you made it?
Wong: I never had a problem with genre because a genre actually is like a uniform – you put yourself into a certain uniform. But if you dress up in a police officer's uniform, it doesn't mean that you are an officer; it can mean something else. But this is the starting point, and the best way is to not to fit into this uniform but to make this uniform a part of yourself.
IGN: You do this effectively in the film. Like the rest of your films it's infused with a romanticism, but even as a martial arts movie the action is an afterthought or expression of character rather than plot.
Wong: I always think to shoot action scenes is not really about the stunts. It's more about an expression and about imagination, so I don't think that seeing precisely the stunt is important because seeing less can be more effective, and in a way what I think Ashes of Time has done and it has this influence on the films that came after it is filmmakers really learned that shooting action doesn't have to be one, two, three, four showing all of these tricks. Sometimes it should be more cinematic.
IGN: You have also talked about exploring different subjects with each film. Is that a product of professional obligation or personal interest? Wong: I'm not coming from film school, I learned cinema in the cinema watching films, so you always have a curiosity. I say, well, what if I make a film in this genre? What if I make this film like this? It's always like curiosities and drive, like, let's try to do this one this time.
IGN: How did you come up with what is now your signature visual style? For instance, in a lot of your films, rather than doing in-camera slow motion you'll shoot at regular speed and then use digital slow-motion. Wong: It's really about feelings, because just like I explained, for Ashes of Time we have several action scenes and each scene we tried to make different to give it a different message. For the blind swordsman we shot it in normal high speed so it's become very slow – it's become traditional slow motion. What we wanted to convey through this effect was we wanted to see this guy is wearing down, he's tired, his sword has become very slow. Then we shot the other one like in stop-motion because we wanted to show the speed. So I don't think it's only a stunt but it's not about choreography or special effects. The first thing you have to notice is what do you want to express in this scene? What is the difference between this person and the other person?
IGN: Your films are all impressionistic in terms of creating mood and characterization. Where does your organization lie in constructing them?
Wong: You mean my logic?
IGN: I mean do you discover what's appropriate on set, do you figure those things out in the writing process, or is the film assembled in the editing room.
Wong: It is a very attractive process because first of all you have the story. You have your perceptions of the characters, but you don't make it like the final form because otherwise you won't be able to change it. Then you just leave it to the actor you're shooting. During shooting you have the idea like of this certain dress on this actress, but it's not to fit, so you have to make all of these alterations and modifications. So in a way I build the characters with the cast and it's sort of custom-made, the whole process, and then you have to make all of these adjustments. So this is the way we work: at first it is fake, and then it becomes more and more concrete.
IGN: You have indicated that the process of rebuilding Ashes of Time was almost accidental. In general are you eager or reluctant to go back and revisit your earlier films?
Wong: Sure, because until today I haven't watched In the Mood For Love or 2046 again because once I finish a film, I'm not afraid to delay the schedule to make sure that this is the film that I want, that this is the best that I can do at that point. But once I let go of a film, I just want it to be like this – I don't want to do anything about it, because that film represents what we tried to express at a certain point. It's almost like a personal album – there's no point in photoshopping your 12-year-old pictures because that was you at 12 years old, and you look different now. But this is the way it's supposed to be – you should be like this. But Ashes of Time, we made this film in'94, but it's like a wine. It needs time to breathe and maybe this is the time it belongs to, today, instead of 14 years ago.
IGN: Ultimately what lessons do you learn as a filmmaker in the process of doing something like this in between doing new films?
Wong: To try to take care of your material as much as possible so that you don't have to go back again (laughs).
Interview réalisée le 10 octobre 2008 par Todd Gilchrist trouvée ici.