Interview: The sexplorers
Director Chen Kaige explores themes of sexual possession
and lust with help from Heather Graham and Joseph Fiennes in Killing Me
Softly. Chris Betros reports.
When Chen Kaige went to Britain to make Killing Me Softly, his first
English-language film, the Chinese director didn't expect too many cultural
differences. After all, he said, "to make a film anywhere in the
world, you only need three thingsactors, cameras and a director."
Except, someone forgot to tell him about lunch breaks and afternoon tea.
"That drove me crazy," said Chen during a visit to Japan with
the film's star, Heather Graham. "In China, if we're in a hurry,
we just have a lunchbox, but in Britain, they all wanted an hour for lunch
every day. And then we always had to stop for a tea break at 4:30pm."
Billed as a psychological sex thriller, Killing Me Softly tells the story
of Alice (Graham), an American businesswoman living in London, who drops
her comfortable but ordinary relationship with her boyfriend and begins
an obsessive affair with a mysterious mountaineer (Joseph Fiennes) after
their eyes meet on the street one morning. Sparks fly, and they spend
most of the movie playing out their torrid passion.
For the bodacious, blonde Graham, who can also be currently seen dodging
Jack the Ripper in From Hell, Killing Me Softly is not just a sexual thriller.
"It's about possessive love, how easily we give someone power over
us, even someone we hate or don't trust," she said. "How many
of you have woken up the morning after making love to someone and wondered
who that person beside you really is?"
Chen, 50, said that some studio brass were at first apprehensive that
a Chinese director could tell such a story. "What they don't realize
is this is a universal theme," he said in confident English. "This
is life, it happens in Tokyo, New York, London, Paris and Beijing. Chinese
people might be conservative when they are out in groups, but in private,
this is what they're doing every day."
The son of a noted film director, Chen has had a topsy turvy life. When
he turned 15 during the chaos of Mao's Cultural Revolution in the '60s,
he joined the Red Guard and publicly denounced his father, an incident
he depicted in the climax of his acclaimed Farewell, My Concubine (1992).
During the late '60s, he was sent to work as a laborer on a rubber plantation
in Yunan Province. By the late '70s, he was back in Beijing, one of a
new generation of filmmakers questioning the themes of Chinese patriotism,
nationhood and identity.
He spent 1987-90 in New York before returning to China. Perhaps influenced
by Western filmmaking, Farewell My Concubine marked a turning point in
Chen's career, away from art and more toward commercial success. He cast
international star Gong Li and Hong Kong pop sensation Leslie Cheung in
leading roles. His films have since been regular entries in international
film festivals. Chen now says he is interested in exploring themes that
affect us all. "Nowadays we seem to have everything we want. We can
go anywhere, talk to anyone with mobile phones, but it is still so difficult
to relate to and understand each other.
It's like a social disease. The fact that I am a Chinese director doesn't
For Graham, her character in Killing Me Softly is yet again one of two
types she seems to preferinnocent ingenues or sexpots, the latter
most notably as Roller Girl, the porn actress always on roller skates
in Boogie Nights (1997) and as CIA agent Felicity Shagwell in Austin Powers:
The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). "I guess I'm fairly free-spirited.
I like the idea of exploring sexuality in movies, especially when it is
spontaneous with no rehearsals," she said. "Joseph Fiennes is
a really sexy and passionate guy, and I didn't feel he was taking advantage
Originally from Milwaukee, Graham traveled a lot as a child with her
father who worked for the FBI. Dreaming of stardom, she headed to LA as
a teenager and worked as an usher at the Hollywood Bowl, before making
her 1988 film debut in License to Drive. This was followed by her first
breakout role, as a drug addict in Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy. She
became familiar to TV audiences with a recurring role in David Lynch's
wildly popular series Twin Peaks. Voted the ShoWest convention's Female
Star of Tomorrow in 1999, Graham has been busy in recent years with Lost
in Space, Two Girls and a Guy, Committed, Bowfinger, Say It Isn't So,
From Hell and the third Austin Powers film, tentatively titled Goldmember
but likely to be changed due to legal disputes with James Bond producers.
Killing Me Softly was also the subject of disputes in the US, over its
rating. "I don't know why," said Graham. "I'd rather watch
sex scenes than graphic violence which is a lot less censored these days."
For Chen, who has lived much of his life under censorship in one form
or another, was more practical. "I'm patient. People under 18 will
grow up and see this film eventually. The funny thing is, it has been
censored for the US, but it won't be in China."
Photo: Chris Betros
|B u y i t o n l i n
The Spy Who Shagged Me [DVD]
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469: Female bonding
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467: Good Lord
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461: In Gere
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440: Hip hop pop
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416: The sexplorers
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414: Running "Rings" around the
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408: Caiya Kawasaki
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judge an ogre by its cover
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401: Life's a party
400: In the Nic of time
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397:Evolution of an ex-Filer
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396: Rock Warrior
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395: 2001's absurd odyssey
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Artist, filmmaker, actor, model, Vincent Gallo
for the universe
softly and carry a big kick
Actor Steven Seagal
Italian mime Ennio Marchetto
385: A sight
for saur eyes
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The father of ambient music, Brian Eno
TV personality Mari Christine
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American Short Shorts Film Festival organizer, Tetsuya Besho
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call me babe
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364: As the
Meg Ryan promotes her new movie
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in the hood
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Hollywood's queen of cool, Gwyneth Paltrow
that funky music
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358: A heartbreak
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Star Jamie Bell
354: In a
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Jim Carrey as The Grinch
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