Entering the plush Parisian hotel room, Wong Kar-Wai appears as enigmatic as one of his films. With the smile set permanently to placid and wearing his trademark sunglasses, inscrutable is not the word. But if it's a self-crafted image by the 49-year-old director from Hong Kong who brought us In the Mood For Love, it's entirely in keeping with his work. From his unconventional shooting methods to a body of films built around the secrets of the heart, Wong is a man who loves mystery.
Still, when his new film My Blueberry Nights opened Cannes last year, some critics were left musing that Wong's latest riddle for us to ponder was why he'd chosen this confection as his first English-language effort. While this story of a heartbroken waitress may feel like a mere trifle compared to his last film, 2004's meaty In The Mood For Love follow-up, 2046, it's typical of Wong to defy our expectations. Think back to 1997 when he went to Argentina to make gay love story Happy Together.
Ultimately it won him Best Director in Cannes, so it was a calculated risk. Making your first US film – not least with untested singer Norah Jones in the lead – is a far bigger gamble. And with a support cast that includes Natalie Portman and Jude Law, Wong had no choice but to make the film the Hollywood way. "My Blueberry Nights is almost like a first film to me," he admits. "I had to deal with new systems."
The result borders on being dangerously close to the clichéd at times. If there is one saving grace, it's Jones, whose screen debut is the unexpected highlight of the film.
I wonder whether Wong will return to the US. "If there's the right topic, then fine," he says. "But what is interesting is to work with a language I don't know. I'm curious to make a Russian film." For now, he intends to go back to China to make a film about Ye Wen, the man who trained Bruce Lee. "I want to do something fresh," he says. With Wong Kar-Wai, it's hard to expect anything else.
'My Blueberry Nights' opens on 22 February