ELIZABETH WEITZMAN: You left Shanghai when you were only five, and your style is much more contemporary Hong Kong than classical Chinese. Do you associate yourself completely with Hong Kong?
WONG KAR-WAI: I was born and raised in cities, and I think I'm more interested in making films about cities in general, whereas most Chinese films are about the countryside.
EW: When you were working as a producer and writer in Hong Kong, was film making always your ultimate goal?
WKW: No, because it seemed so far away at that moment. It happened suddenly, when a producer asked me if I wanted to make a film and I said, "Why not?" That started my career as a director [with As Tears Go By, 1988].
EW: In Fallen Angels, the comedy scenes, like when the dead pig gets a full-body rubdown, are really stand-alone set pieces. Do you think this strength comes from your early days as a sitcom producer?
WKW: No, I think it's all because of the actors. They have these kinds of things they give out, and I get inspired by that. Especially Takeshi Kaneshiro. The idea of massaging the pig was his idea, and I thought it was good. Why not?
EW: Was your film Days of Being Wild autobiographical?
WKW: No. None of my films are autobiographical.
EW: You don't pull anything from your life?
WKW: My life is too boring. I don't think it can be an interesting film.
EW: So you wouldn't say you identify with either of the heroes in Fallen Angels?
WKW: No. They are my film, but they are not me.
EW: So if you don't draw on your own life, where do your ideas come from?
WKW: People around me. Like, I use monologue in Chungking because whenever I make a film, I become very busy and my wife begins talking to herself, so I thought I should put that in.
EW: Do your family members see themselves in your films?
WKW: I have a very simple family. My mother and father have both passed away, so it's only my wife and my three-year-old son.
EW: Missing parents is a common theme in your movies, right?
EW: But you wouldn't consider that to be autobiographical at all?
WKW: No, it is quite different.
EW: Has becoming a father changed your perspective as a filmmaker?
WKW: Somehow, yes, but you know I'm still an intern as a father.
EW: Despite the contemporary feeling of Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, I think your movies are sort of old-fashioned. They're really about people just looking to connect in a hyper-speeded-up modem world.
WKW: Yes. People have said, "You're the hippest director in the world," and I say, "I'm not hip." I, too, think I'm very old-fashioned.
EW: Most of your movies blend tragedy with hope. Where would you place yourself on the optimist-pessimist scale?
WKW: All of the films, in fact, have ended with hope. And I think the last fifteen minutes of Fallen Angels is one of the most beautiful endings in my films. And this is my answer.
EW: My next question was whether or not you'd call yourself a romantic, but I think I already know the answer.
WKW: Well, I am just reasonable, not romantic.
EW: I've noticed that many of your characters, especially the men, bury their emotions beyond the reach of the people around them.
EW: I'm wondering why you don't want anyone to see your eyes.
WKW: Because I can sleep in an interview or in shooting, and so the sunglasses are very important to my career.
EW: Expired pineapple tins is a common theme in both Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. What is it about pineapple that's so terrible?
WKW: Basically, I like fruits but I hate pineapple, so I think one of the best tortures for a character in my films is for him to be eating a lot of pineapple.
EW: Are your stylistic choices - the fump-cutting, slow motion, the wide angles - a collaboration between you and your cinematographer, Chris Doyle?
WKW: Our styles come from the way we work; like in Fallen Angels we started working in a very small teahouse, and the only way we could shoot the scene was with a wide-angle lens. But I thought the wide-angle lens was too normal, so instead I preferred an extreme wide-angle. And the effect is stunning because it draws the characters very close to the camera but twists the perspective of the space so they seem far away. It became a contrast to Chungking Express, in which people are very far away from the camera but seem so close. Also, we work with very limited budgets and we don't have permits, so we have to work like CNN, you know, just breaking into some place and taking some shots. We often don't have time for setups, and sometimes when neighbors walk into the frames we have to cut them out, and that becomes a jump cut. I think 10 or 15 percent is preconceived. Most of it just happens.
EW: You're always being compared to Godard. Is that flattering for you, or tiresome?
WKW: Do they mean Godard himself, or Godard the general impression? People always say, "This guy's films look like Godard's" because they are difficult, not because they really look like Godard.
EW: But is he an influence on you?
WKW: Yes, of course. I think most filmmakers my age are influenced by Godard.
EW: Who else influenced you?
WKW: My mother.
EW: You cast some of the most popular actors in Hong Kong, but you always subvert their images. So you seem to be advancing the cult of celebrity while thumbing your nose at it at the same time. Putting Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung in the graphic sex scenes in Happy Together was like casting Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as lovers.
WKW: Yeah. As an audience member, I prefer to see some stars to make me feel like I'm watching a movie.
EW: And how do you feel about working with them?
WKW: I don't have any problems with it. They may hate me or love me, but that's their problem, not mine. As long as I get my shot, it's fine.
EW: Do any of them hate you?
EW: But then they work with you again.
WKW: [smiles] Yeah.
EW: You know, we've been talking for nearly an hour and you've made no value judgments of any kind. You're not pushing your ideas at all.
WKW: I hate to do that. One of the questions I hate most is, "What are your films about?" There's no point in me explaining my films. If I can do that in words, why bother to make a film? Audiences should get their own ideas.
Entretien avec Elizabeth Weitzman, ayant eu lieu en février 1998, et trouvé ici.