Following her award-winning documentary, “One Tree Three Lives” on the novelist Hualing Nieh Engle, Hong Kong director Angie Chen embarks on a rather difficult mission, of shooting a documentary about Yank Wong, a man who makes clear from the beginning, that he does not want to participate in this film. His attitude results in a number of arguments with the director, that, actually, form one of the bases of this very interesting documentary.
Chen, who is friend of Yank Wong, portrays his everyday life quite closely, despite his continuous protests, and in the process, presents, quite thoroughly, a true artist who is a painter, art director, set designer, writer, musician, and photographer, and for whom, creation in all artistic forms is the only way of living. Apart from the artist, though, whose presentation also includes his life story, Chen also portrays the man, particularly through the interaction with his friends and the relationship with his daughter, who has reunited with him after many years they were apart.
The portrait of this artist is not easily revealed. Yank Wong fights Angie Chen all the way, with their “disputes” (usually under the influence of heavy drinking) being one of the central themes of the film, in rather funny fashion, since the director is usually completely frustrated, while the subject quite amused. In this “fight” between an unstoppable force and an immovable object, almost every aspect of the documentary is a struggle, with the concept presented quite eloquently in the way Yank Wong’s painting procedure is depicted, with him actually recording himself with a GoPro camera, since he would not allow others to film him, stating that it would ruin his artistic procedure.
Evidently, this is not a “regular” documentary, particularly because both director and subject emerge as somewhat obnoxious, at least at times, despite the fact that their artistic prowess is also obvious. I found this aspect to be very interesting and quite realistic, to the contrary of the plethora of biographic documentaries, who have the tendency to idealize their subject. Both director and artist in this case, are presented as mere humans, with all their traits but also, all their faults.
One of the elements I prefer documentaries not to include is giving much screen time to the director, which I find disorienting and too self-indulgent. Angie Chan does exactly that, with her time on screen being quite lengthy, although this aspect can be somewhat “blamed” to Yank Wong’s attitude. In the end though, and particularly in a letter by the painter presented during the finale, this aspect is revealed as one of the central points of the narrative, actually changing the whole nature of the film, as it also reveals Yang Wong’s perception.
Technically, the documentary is quite good, with the plethora of cinematographers (including the director and the subject) capturing the latter’s life quite thoroughly, through his works, his social interactions, and a number of interviews with people who have cooperated with him over the years. The editing by Jean Hu, Chu Hoi Ying and Chen herself retains a nice enough pace through a succession of the above elements that keeps the documentary very interesting.
“I’ve Got The Blues” is not your regular documentary, and the fact remains that at times, due to both presentation and subject, becomes somewhat annoying. As a double portrait, though, it succeeds to the fullest, while it also presents the reality of what it is to be an artist.