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Wong: I think to describe a so-called love scene, or intercourse is very boring. There must be a point to your focus. Like in Eros, it's always about this person's perspective. It's about the hand, instead of the actual act. In 2046, the only physical relationship between Tony and the women is the story between him and Zhang Ziyi. The reason we want to have three parts of that story is because the character of Tony is always thinking about his past. And sometimes he has a fantasy about the future, but he's always missing the present. And that's why he wants to change, he wants to have physical contact, very solid relationships with someone else, and that woman is the woman next door, Zhang Ziyi. He wants to change, he wants to have direct contact with someone, another person. So his story with Zhang Ziyi is entirely straightforward, there are no second thoughts. He just wants to believe by instinct. And afterwards, when things don't work out well with Zhang Ziyi, he goes back to talking to himself, and writing. Writing is a way to have a dialogue with yourself. You can never compete with something in the past, in memory. Like some people said, we love what we can't have. In this world, the end becomes the beginning. It's very unfair for anyone around him [Tony] in the present, because they can never compete with his imagination or his memory. We love what we can't have, and we can't have what we love.
TIME: I heard that your cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, once claimed that all of your films were about the impossibility of love. Do you agree?
Wong: No, I don't think so, because if you have it [love] in your memory, it's already possible to me. He [Doyle] thinks that because he's very physical. [Laughs]
TIME: What's your working relationship like with Doyle and with your art director, William Chang?
Wong: It's a very long working relationship, and it makes a lot of things much easier. And actually we don't have to discuss much about the film. We don't need meetings. Sometimes I ever prefer that way because we need some suspense between each other. I have to guess what William is doing. By the time I get to the set, I have to respond to that. So that may be a very good way to inspire each other. Otherwise it would become very boring, like a very long relationship, a marriage, everything becomes very predictable, and you'd know that we are talking about the same thing all the time. We prefer to stay away form each other and have some mystery. Sometimes it's like a competition. They create something hard, and you have to solve it. And I create something hard. I will ask Chris if he can do something better. It's like a challenge. It works very well in our case.
TIME: Can you give an example from the making of 2046?
Wong: We're shooting in a small hotel, everything is very narrow, tight, and I decided to shoot in Cinemascope, which created a huge problem for the lighting and camera man because they don't have a stage or anything to put their light. So Chris has to create something on his feet, and for him, this is the first time he has used this format. Actually he's quite lost, and he has to find a new way to deal with this problem. Of course he complains, and we have mistakes and problems, but this is the way, the challenge, otherwise it will be the same thing. Everyone will sleep, it will be very boring. Especially if it takes five years to make a film.
TIME: How do you communicate with each other?
Wong: I think we speak almost the same language. We know that. And I think we respect each other very well. And I know that, this is the best way to deal with the films.
TIME: Can you ever imagine working with anyone else?
Wong: Sure, possibly. At some point for Chris, he needs some inspiration. He's a sailor, and he has to travel, and for me also, if I have a chance to work with another director of photography, it would be another challenge.
TIME: Now that 2046 is done, and that continuous story has been completed, what will your next project be? How do you start a new project? Do you start with an image?
Wong: Yes, you need to have the image. Sometimes you can start with the look of an actress, or a certain space, or even with a hand. Like Eros, I started the whole image with the single hand.
TIME: Your vision of Hong Kong is so individual, so different from the place we live in. What it's like to be an elegiac artist in a city that is constantly eating its own past?
Wong: It's like you try to keep something. That's why you have a story like 2046. You want to create a place in the world where what we think is nice, we can keep it that way. It's like the Hong Kong that we picture in our films is something from our impressions, from our memories, a certain wonderful moment of our city. And we want to keep that on film.