Wayne Wang breaks into laughter at the suggestion. "I am too nice a person to be making movies," the S.F.-based director readily admits. "I'm not a nasty person. I'm not a super-cynical person. I'm an observer more than anything else, and a collaborator. I don't play psychological games with the actors. I'm very Asian in that I don't argue with the actors, I don't say to them, "This is what I want.'"
Nonetheless, for The Center of the World, the hot-button S.F. International Film Festival opener (April 19) about an immature dot-com wiz kid's Vegas rendezvous with a coolly in-control stripper, Wang relentlessly pushed his actors (Peter Saarsgard and Molly Parker). "From the very beginning I said I was interested in having real sex in this movie if it called for it. I have no qualms with that, because the movie is about penetration or no penetration, and the fantasy and reality of sex." To heighten the actors' intimacy, Wang shot the low-budget film on digital video with a small crew. "I always felt like I was going through it with the two of them," he says. "But I wasn't right there while they were making love: "OK, OK, do this.' Sometimes I had my back turned, and I gave them space. Because the cameras were so small, sometimes the [operators] could shoot with their backs turned also."
Thanks to its adult content, The Center of the World is checking into theaters unrated the day after its festival premiere. But the prurient in the crowd will be disappointed to see that it looks more like a corporate training video than Behind the Green Door. "I told the camera people I didn't want the shots to be erotic-looking," Wang explains. "It's not pretty like 9 1/2 Weeks, where everything is lit so it looks more sensual. I wanted it to be real, to be documenting what was going on. People will find things that will titillate them anyway, and that's fine because it is voyeurism. As a filmmaker, I am a big voyeur on every level." More laughter from Wang. "There's this porno director called Gregory Dark who made very successful porno films, then he started directing Britney Spears [videos], now he's going to direct features. I'm going in the other direction: I'm heading toward porno movies."
Wang has bounced between indie (Life Is Cheap) and studio films (The Joy Luck Club) for 25 years, but he still had some trepidation that The Center of the World might foul up his Hollywood career. "Every time I feel like I'm caught in some kind of tradition or structure -- Anywhere But Here had stars, lawyers, preview committees, studio executives, that's all part of that game -- I want to free myself, to cleanse myself in a way. I was very relieved that these little [digital video] cameras cost $1,500 and almost nothing to shoot. I realized that if I never got a job again, I could probably make movies for under $100,000. I could make a Decalogue [Krzysztof Kieslowski's acclaimed 1988 series of one-hour TV films] of sex films for very cheap and still be very happy doing them. Maybe happier. When I understood that, I wasn't afraid anymore."