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April 18, 2001 11:38am
Director Wayne Wang Looks at Sex in a Wired World
Source: Reuters
by: Sonya Hepinstall

(WASHINGTON) -- Wayne Wang doesn't like people telling him what he can and cannot do.

``Sometimes I get really upset and bored with how the movie industry is filled with lawyers and executives and rating boards and preview focus groups that tell you, 'you can't do this, you can't do that, this is illegal, this you'll get sued, this won't work.' It's filled with everything that you're not supposed to do,'' Wang said.

``Once in a while I have to kind of break away from that ... there is a side of me that once in a while really needs to get that air,'' the Hong Kong-born director said in an interview.

And he gives free rein to those needs in his latest movie.

``The Center of the World'' is an unabashed exploration of a certain kind of sex as a young dotcom millionaire isolated in a world of technology pays a stripper to spend three days in a Las Vegas hotel room living his fantasies.

Shot in digital video, the film's sexual content can be unnerving. The Artisan Entertainment (news - external web site) production is the opening night film of the San Francisco International Film Festival on Thursday and is being released nationwide without a rating rather than having it go out with a rating of NC-17.

The festival is advertising the film as ``'Last Tango in Paris' for the wired generation,'' but Wang himself avoids making comparisons.

``I just wanted to take these two characters today and try to do a film that is truthful and real about sex, and not try to homogenize it or whitewash it,'' he said.

If it all seems unexpected from the director of such warm family dramas as ``The Joy Luck Club,'' from Amy Tan's best-selling novel, and the award-winning ``Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart,'' about a Chinese mother and her American-born daughter, it shouldn't, said Wang, who is 52.

``I'm very interested in family relationships and simple human dramas and I will always go back to that,'' he said.

An Experiment, An Exploration

``This film for me is an experiment, it's an exploration, it's a little bit like playing jazz,'' he said, using a metaphor of which he is fond. ``You kind of go to things that are slightly out of your control.''

A self-professed ``nervous'' person, Wang nevertheless appears to be well in control of his career, at least.

``The Joy Luck Club'' in 1993 was hailed as one of the first films with an Asian-American theme and cast to win a relatively wide audience in the United States.

Wang followed that success with independent films ``Smoke'' and ``Blue in the Face,'' in collaboration with novelist Paul Auster, and in 1997 returned to his native Hong Kong to film the handover of the then-British colony to China with ``Chinese Box,'' starring mainland star Gong Li and Jeremy Irons.

Hong Kong was not unfamiliar territory. Between the time he left to study in the United States as a teen-ager and when he became a U.S. citizen in the early 1980s, Wang went back and forth between Asia and America working in film and television.

``I was carrying a British passport at the time and ... I was kind of struggling with whether I'm really Chinese or American or even English for that matter, kind of conflicted about all that,'' Wang said.

Ultimately he chose America, he said, because of the degree of freedom he could have both personally and professionally.

``I had a lot of wild ideas as a young filmmaker and I couldn't do what I wanted to do (in Hong Kong),'' he said.

Reluctant Role Model For Asian-Americans

Wang has since become one of a handful of Asian-Americans who have had big success in the industry, and it is inevitable that he is brought up as a role model for young filmmakers. But it is a mantle Wang does not wear lightly.

``I work, and I make the films that I feel are important for me. I don't want to feel the burden or the guilt of saying that I'm kind of carrying a flag for Asian-American filmmakers or even making films for Asian-Americans,'' he said.

And yet Wang admits that it is to those stories that he always returns. His next project, he hopes, will be a film version of Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee's ``A Gesture Life,'' the story of a Japanese immigrant of Korean descent and his terrible experience of the Second World War.

``I have a wonderful script that Chang-rae adapted for me but it's hard finding the financing for it,'' Wang said.

``People don't realize how hard it is to raise money to do an Asian film still,'' he said.

``The Center of the World'' was made on a very small budget -- just how small Wang won't say -- and a very tight schedule.

Wang said his greatest concern is that the film will be ''silently censored'' by failing to win wide release.

Already The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, as well as several other regional newspapers, have reportedly decided not to run the original, more racy, versions of advertisements for the film.

``What's important for me is for a film like this to be shown, to be able to have the same kind of access as any other film,'' he said.

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