You might notice that in this episode, set in Shanghai, I am from time to time wearing a colored pocket square or foulard. This is not, you might have noticed, normal for me. But there is a method to my madness. These tiny notes of color are our first venture into actual production design—a calculated effort to give the episode a specific look.
I have long been besotted with the works of Chinese director Wong Kar-wai and his frequent cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Their films In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express are gorgeous meditations on longing and desire and missed connections. They are spectacularly shot—and a while back I noticed how tiny elements of color in the foreground of the frames are often connected to similar colors in the background, giving scenes a lush, unified atmosphere that feels natural and undesigned. So we tried—as best and as cheaply as possible—to do that. You will notice scenes tied together by colors. Cameraman Mo Fallon and cameraman/editor Nick Brigden did, I think, truly epic work on this one.
I mention longing and desire. And in many ways, that’s what this episode is about. China is experiencing an explosive period of change and growth as millions of people are joining the middle class. Millions and millions of people who want and will soon demand the cars, TV screens, apartments, gasoline, access to information, and mobility most of us take for granted.
China—Shanghai in particular—is a very different-looking place every time I go. And I believe that the world as a whole, largely because of what’s happening in China, is going to be a very different-looking place. If you live in New York, as I do, and think you live in the most modern, sophisticated city in the world—or even at its center—Shanghai can come as a rude surprise. In spite of its nominally communist system, it is the most go-go, unfettered, money- and status-mad, materialistic place on earth. Its skyline alone is confirmation that money talks loudest. In no other city could you build the world’s largest, tallest ominously curved phallus—stick it right up into the clouds like a giant F**K YOU! to the world—and not have trouble with the NIMBYs.
A version of this field note was previously published on Bourdain’s Tumblr on Sept. 24, 2014.