Last Tango in Buenos Aires
BY CHEUK KWAN
We are at the end of our journey. Four years, 200,000 kilometres, thirteen countries, fifteen stories. And more airport lounges than we’d care to count. This is going to be our final shooting trip – to South America – and our last dance with the camera.
It has been a challenge to get my crew to the other end of the world. Kwoi, my cameraman, and I are travelling with our sound guy Ajay, and his wife Sarada. Getting them to Canada from Mumbai was easy enough. Many of Ajay’s relatives live in Toronto , and the trip had been planned as a family reunion. However, there is only one way to go from Toronto to South America without going through the U.S. and the visa hassles for our Indian nationals: Air Canada ‘s nightly nonstop to Sao Paolo.
So we’re off to Sao Paolo again – where Kwoi and I had just returned from a year ago after shooting our story in the frenzy that is Brazil ‘s fifth World Cup championship. It’s only a short hop to Buenos Aires from there. But to get to Lima , our next destination, we have to fly back up north again for six more hours, over the Andes and past the equator. There is no getting around it. I bought cheap roundtrip tickets from a bucket shop in Buenos Aires’ Chinatown.
We are staying in a French diplomat’s spacious, Parisian-style apartment in the heart of the Argentine city that gave us the tango. The diplomat is married to a Chinese poet who is a friend of a friend in Paris who used to live in Montreal and who met Kwoi at an Asian film festival in Toronto .
I found my connection into Argentina through my sister in Hong Kong who has a good friend in Vancouver whose aunt lives in Rio de Janeiro who has a stepson in Buenos Aires who is a good friend of my restaurant owner here. We are practicing six degrees of separation in this floating, parallel and interconnected world of the Chinese diaspora. And that’s how I found most of my stories.
Kwoi and I work well together. I have a fluid directorial style—just going with the flow—and at times it seems as though I don’t know what I am doing. I love the uncertainties and spontaneity on location. In fact, I don’t write my stories until I am back in the editing suite. There are no call sheets, no transportation schedules, just return air tickets. I am my own fixer and the on-location catering is excellent. We were well fed by our Chinese restaurant hosts! Kwoi loved all this and flourished with his camerawork.
After a week in Argentina and a week in Peru , Kwoi and I step off the plane from Peru and into our last night in Argentina , having left our Indian couple in Machu Picchu . We are spending our last night in South America in a milonga . This tango hall we found has early 20 th century décor and a dance floor polished like a second mirror to the one in the ceiling, reminiscent of the famous set in “Last Tango in Paris ”.
I’ve always liked the tango with its seductive music and sensuous movements. And I’ve always imagined that I would find a Chinese restaurant owner who could tango the night away. The music begins. Partners re-unite and converge on the dance floor, going around counterclockwise in fluid motion, their mutual sexual longing and the dance’s inherent eroticism barely contained by the rigid steps they have to follow, their feet caressing the floor.
I am caressing the dancers with my camera, filming them in dream-like blurred motion effect, perhaps as Wong Kar Wai and his cameraman Chris Doyle would have done. We film the night away. This is my ode to the tango and the country that inspired it. Tomorrow we are passing through Sao Paolo again, saying one last goodbye to our South American restaurant owner there. Goodbye, Argentina . Good night.