Asian Cuisine Any way you cut it, the 38th New York Film Festival was an Asian affair. Presented Sept. 22-Oct. 9, 2000 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the festival came to a rousing close with Taiwanese director Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with major entries from South Korea (Chunhyang), Iran (The Circle), Japan (Taboo, Eureka), Israel (Kippur), and mainland China (Platform). Perhaps the most visually arresting was Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. When the film was presented at the Cannes Film Festival last May, it was awarded the Grand Prix de la Technique, for technical excellence.
Sharing the prize with directors of photography Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bi was William Chang Suk-ping, production designer, costume designer, and editor. That's right - Chang, who has collaborated with Wong Kar-wai on all his movies, typically takes over editing duties after designing them. Says the director, "I'm always late delivering my films. My first movie, As Tears Go By, was supposed to open, and we were still editing. I had to call all my friends to help put it together. William's just very good at it - he studied film, and he has very good judgment. Most of the time, I say, I'll shoot the film, and you edit it. Why not?"
Chang, who like Kar-wai is a Shanghai native who moved to Hong Kong as a child, attended Canadian film school but got sidetracked into the garment industry on his return to Southeast Asia. Fashion provided an entree into film, where Chang soon established himself as an art director, and possibly, the first in Hong Kong to be credited as production designer. Work with Tsui Hark and Yim Ho led to the designer's collaboration with Kar-wai, who says, "We are the same age, and from the same background; we are both Shanghainese. So we became friends."
"Wong Kar-wai and I are very much alike," agrees Chang, whose films with the director include Days of Being Wild, Ashes of Time, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. "We work in similar ways." Their method is unconventional, starting from a general scenario, but no script. "Kar-wai is like a tailor who lays out the cloth in front of him," says the designer. "He looks at it and figures out what is the best way to cut it. Although I do not have the script ahead of time, my job is concerned first with building the sets, understanding the emotional requirements of the scenes, and then creating the clothes for the characters."
On In the Mood for Love, the filmmaker's outline was: "Two persons, living in the same building, both married, find out there's an affair between their spouses. And we know the story happens in 1962." Like Kar-wai and Chang, the two main characters (played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) are transplants from Shanghai. They live next door to each other in a crowded rooming house, because in the early 60s, Hong Kong was not so built up and had experienced a housing shortage. Today's city is almost unrecognizable as the same place.
Therefore, says Chang, "We chose to shoot the film in Bangkok, because we could no longer find the locations we desired." A suitable building was chosen, restructured on the interior to ease filming (Kar-wai favors fluid pans across spaces, even if a wall seemingly bars the way), and redecorated to evoke 1962. "We reprinted wallpapers of the period, and even searched for writing papers used then and recreated stacks of them," says the designer. As always in a Kar-wai film, mirrors were commonly employed. Here, they served two functions: "Due to the limited space, the mirrors gave us more angles to approach the location; they also gave us another level of meaning, since they show a flipped reality." The colorful palette also reflected another facet of the film: "Since our protagonists live in the 1960s, they behave very politely with each other. I tried to capture the inner conflicts with the color scheme."
Cheung's high-necked, form-fitting dresses are particular standouts with their brilliant patterns. "A woman like Maggie's character would wear traditional dresses every day," says Chang. "She would own as many Chinese dresses as we own T-shirts. And she would see her tailor once a week." The designer and his assistant searched for vintage fabrics, but not just in Southeast Asia. "Some we found in Argentina [where Happy Together was shot] were used to make western dresses," he says. "We took them apart and made Chinese dresses and shoes."
When all of these materials come together, the director finds his film. "William will ask, `Do you want to see all of the two houses, or just two rooms?' " says Kar-wai. "How are we going to see this space? About the clothes, he will do the same. He will ask, `What is the first shot of this scene?' I say, `It will be the back of the woman.' And then he will try to find something interesting to put on her back. Sometimes I say, `I have no idea yet - do something, and I'll react to it.'"
Adds Chang, "I think the job of art director is like providing the raw materials for the chef - the director - to cook a delicious meal. And the editor provides the sauce to give the dishes more flavors or a new presentation."
Other prominent features in the New York Film Festival were Lars von Trier's musical melodrama Dancer in the Dark, shot in digital video; Terence Davies' movie version of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, set in Belle Epoque New York, shot in Glasgow, and starring Gillian Anderson; Before Night Falls, a poetically photographed biographical film about Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, directed by painter Julian Schnabel; and Pollock, a directorial debut by Ed Harris, who also plays the Abstract Expressionist pioneer. Unusual play adaptations included Atom Egoyan's version of Krapp's Last Tape, part of a Gate Theatre project to film all of Samuel Beckett's work; and a near-Beckettian treatment of Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena, directed by the late John Berry, and starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett.