New York, I Love You: Fatih Akin in Chinatown

New York I Love You

Fatih Akin’s segment of “New York, I Love You” stars Shu Qi and Ugur Yucel. The film, whose concept was created by Emmanuel Benihby, is being release October 16, 2009 by Vivendi Entertainment.

Inspiration strikes an artist (Turkish actor, writer and director Ugur Yucel, YAZI TURA) when he spies a delicate, reticent young Chinese woman (Taiwanese star Shu Qi, THE TRANSPORTER) working in an herbal tea shop and tries to make her his muse. At first he tries to paint her from memory, but her eyes defy his recollection, so he returns to ask if she will model for him. Touched but confused about why he has chosen her, she refuses. But fate changes everything when the artist becomes ill – and the Chinese woman discovers his final works, portraits of her missing one crucial element: the expression in her eyes.

The Turkish-born German director Fatih Akin, whose films have explored love and identity amidst hybrid cultures, directed this piece. He made his feature film debut with SHORT SHARP SHOCK, the story of a Turkish-Greek- Albaniain youth gang, which won the Bronze Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival, followed by IN JULY, the documentary WE FORGOT TO RETURN and SOLINO. Akin made a breakthrough with HEAD ON, his acclaimed love story between Turkish immigrants in Germany, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. He followed with the documentary CROSSING THE BRIDGE –THE SOUND OF ISTANBUL and most recently wrote and directed THE EDGE OF HEAVEN, which won the Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Akin worked with American cinematographer Mauricio Rubenstein (BERNARD AND DORIS) on the segment.

“Fatih is a true artist with a highly personal voice and a very raw and visceral style,” says Benbihy. “He really knew the characters in his piece, knew everything they had done all their lives and that allowed him to give a lot of depth to them in a short span of time. It’s another story of two very different worlds encountering each other that is full of mystery and beauty. I think it was exciting for Fatih to work with Shu Qi, who is a Huge movie star in the Chinese world and attracted crowds clamoring to see her in Chinatown.”

Akin had wanted to be a part of PARIS JE T’AIME but circumstances didn’t allow him, so he was elated when Benbihy asked him to join the team of NEW YORK I LOVE YOU. Although he has never lived in New York, his travels in the city have left an indelible impression. “The city and its energy have had a great impact on me,” he says. “I couldn’t think of a better reason to return to New York than to make a movie there. It’s the best reason there is.”

Early in developing the story for his segment, Akin had lunch with the Turkish actor Ugur Yucel, with whom he knew he wanted to work. He recalls: “I asked him this question: what can we say about love that hasn’t been told before? He told me that he would like to tell a story about the impossibility of love between an old man and a young woman. I told him I’d like to tell a story about an artist’s love for his art. So the story we came up with connected these two ideas – it’s about a dying man whose art survives even after his love goes unreturned. The story felt like it fit with New York because it is such an artist’s city.”

Akin then searched for an actress to play the role of the artist’s muse. “We looked at a number of names from Chinese cinema. I had seen Shu Qi in a few films and she had really affected me,” he says. “We didn’t really have a common language, but there was little need to talk, because we understood each other so well in a visual and emotional way. And once you put the camera on her, it is Shu Qi who is directing you. Her work was very moving, erotic and sensitive – everything I love about Chinese movies.” Shu Qi was also a member of the 2009 Cannes Festival Jury.

Also moving for Akin was shooting for the first time on the streets of New York City. “I have heard the saying that wherever you put the camera in New York, you have a shot, and that is completely true. But you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of creating a postcard,” he comments. “I was very inspired in this film by some of my favorite New York filmmakers, especially John Cassavetes.”

The production itself, he says, went by in a flash. “It was a very beautiful time, waking up to work in New York for those few days. But it didn’t last long enough. Before I knew it, the filming was over and I had the feeling I had only just gotten started. I hope to return again to shoot in New York.”
Chinese Herbalist SHU QI
Written by FATIH AKIN
Director of Photography MAURICIO RUBINSTEIN
Original Music by ILHAN ERSAHIN