- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

If you’re a foreign director making films in a foreign language and you want to reach a large audience, there’s no question — you must make a film in English. Unfortunately, when top-notch international talents make movies for American audiences, the magic they made in their own languages is often lost.

Take Wong Kar-wai, for example. The acclaimed Chinese filmmaker, who rarely works with a completed script, wrote his English-language debut, “My Blueberry Nights,” with mystery writer Lawrence Block. Alas, an American co-writer wasn’t enough to give the Hong Kong-based director a real sense of the country. This is an American road-trip film without an authentic America.

Singer Norah Jones, in her film debut, plays Elizabeth, who frequents the New York cafe run by Jeremy (Jude Law). The British expat is clearly smitten, but Lizzie’s too distraught over her boyfriend’s infidelity to notice. Without even saying goodbye to her lover, she hands Jeremy her keys and embarks on a cross-country journey, ostensibly to find herself.

That’s the film’s first problem — Lizzie’s journey ends up being more about the colorful characters she meets than about her. It’s a fatal mistake to put the protagonist on the back burner, particularly when the other characters are so stereotypically “colorful.” The only interesting character Lizzie meets is in Nevada, when she partners with a bottle-blond gambler played with delightful abandon by Natalie Portman.

Lizzie writes to Jeremy about her experiences, but she won’t give him a way to contact her. It frustrates him, but enchanted me, because she reads these frequent postcards in voice-overs — and Miss Jones has a speaking voice even more alluring than her singing voice. She’s a natural actress and quite mesmerizing.

One only wishes she had a bit less to say. Mr. Wong’s “In the Mood for Love” was an atmospheric masterpiece partly because music and images said more than words. Perhaps partnering with a writer of crime fiction wasn’t the best move for a director better known for his style than his stories.

**

TITLE: “My Blueberry Nights”

RATING: PG-13 (Mature thematic material, including violence, drinking and smoking)

CREDITS: Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Screenplay by Mr. Wong and Lawrence Block, based on a story by Mr. Wong.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.myblueberrynights-movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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