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Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Wong for mature audiences

It's quite a feat when an art-house director like Wong Kar-wai can fill a room at the Park Hyatt with more media than, say, Anthony Hopkins for "Hannibal." But that's exactly what he did, accompanied by his two stars, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, and it's testament to the director's successful mix of art and glamour.

Wong Kar-wai, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung at a Tokyo press conference for "In the Mood for Love"

In sharp contrast to their onscreen images, Leung and Cheung dressed down for the occasion: Tony in a plain red T-shirt, Maggie in a pink sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo "Sexpert." Wong, of course, hid behind his trademark sunglasses.

On the origins of "In the Mood for Love":

Wong: Usually when you're thinking of making a film, you have a script, and try to decide who would be right for the parts. But for this film, right from the start, we decided to make a film, the three of us, together. Actually, it was in 1996, when "Fallen Angels" was being released, we were in Paris doing promotion, and we were all having breakfast one morning, and I just kind of said, "We haven't all worked together in a while, how about it?"

Tony and I have worked together for a long time, on many films, and he had known Maggie from back in the day, and had even worked with her once on a TV series, but they hadn't appeared together in a film yet.

For me, both of them have a very modern appearance, but I could sense a slightly different air about them, something a bit retro. I thought they'd be perfect to play people from the '60s. And really, it's hard to find actors in Hong Kong these days with that sort of sensibility.

Basically, I left it up to them, how they would develop the characters. Of course, this way of doing it is rather challenging for the actors, but I believed in them and was convinced that the results would be something special.

On how Wong has changed over the years:

Cheung: Well, we've both matured together, but him more than me. When he's making a film now, he's a lot more cautious and careful than he was before. He's more deliberate in things like choosing a grand theme and deciding how he's going to shoot the film. When I first met him, he had just graduated from school and was making experimental films. At that point in time, his approach was, if he felt like filming something, then he'd shoot it right away.

On the end of the affair:

Cheung: You could take the same story, but if you set it in modern times, not the '60s, the way it developed and the conclusion would be totally different. But for these two people, in those days, in the environment they were in, they were subject to certain limits. Even if there was a person you cared for, it could only go so far. At that time, Chinese views on this subject were rather conservative, and very concerned with keeping "face," and they absolutely dreaded having people gossip about them.

Leung: Well, the character I play in the film, Mr. Chow, decides to get close to Mrs. Chan. And I thought a lot about his motivation, and it seemed like he wanted to get some revenge on her husband, for having seduced his wife. But as the story progresses, he starts to like her (Chan), and when he thinks about his motivations, he really feels regret at what he's done. By the end, he can't face her, and he feels all he can do is to split.

On why the shoot dragged on for so long:

Wong: Well, there were various reasons for it. One, of course, was the financial crisis that hit Hong Kong, which affected our financial condition too. But mostly it was because we were looking to capture the Hong Kong of the '60s, and that was really confusing. Hong Kong is a city where everything changes so quickly, all sorts of things just keep disappearing. So finding locations was difficult. It was like starting out on a 100-meter dash and finding out you've entered a marathon.

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