HE MAY BE 54, but Christopher Doyle hasn't lost his boyish ways. His glances are alert yet mischievous and he likes to tease, often breaking into a hearty laugh. This isn't to say he's a frivolous man: he has a way of addressing questions as if they're philosophical inquiries about life. Known for his inventive camera work with director Wong Kar-wai, the Australian-born cinematographer was back in town last week to promote Paris je t'aime. A paean to the city of love made up of five-minute shorts by directors such as the Coen brothers and Walter Salles, the portmanteau movie is being screened as part of this year's French Cinepanorama festival. Doyle, aka To Ho-fung in Cantonese or Du Kefeng in Putonghua, wrote and directed the segment Porte de Choisy with ex-wife Gabrielle Keng and friend Rain Kathy Li Lixin as producers. Paris, where he lived for two years, is among the cities Doyle loves best. It's also the home of Keng, whom he divorced in 1991, and the subject puts Doyle in a reflective mood. 'I don't think I'm easy to live with. It's a stupid thing to do that she married me,' he says with a tinge of self-pity. 'She's now my closest friend ... Not being together made me realise how much we love each other, though we don't love the same way any more. She has another life, but what we can share is very clear now.' Doyle's segment is a celebration of a place, much like how he brought out the flavour of Hong Kong life with In the Mood For Love and Chungking Express. 'I think the way we live and the space we choose informs how we live. I ran into [British artist] David Hockney in London and he said we should celebrate life through colour and form. 'Life is so full of possibilities; our job is to remind you of how special and wonderful the city is,' he says, sipping a glass of champagne at the Alliance Francaise in Wan Chai. The place he celebrates in his short film is Chinatown in Paris. 'I'm lucky to find this space. It's very unusual with its French 60s architecture with Chinese pagodas,' he says. The short film marks Doyle's second outing as a director (after 1999's San Tiao Ren), excluding his music videos for the Strokes and Justin Timberlake, among others. But he says directing is no different from camera work. 'It's like a date. If you have a good meal, it's not because I invited you to dinner but because we enjoyed it together,' he says. 'Same in sex, it's not who's in charge but how it's shared. So you work as a group. As a director, you just take more time, praise or blame. Being a director doesn't mean you're in charge or special.' Doyle has spent the past two years in the US, shooting the Merchant-Ivory period drama The White Countess, M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water and, most recently, Paranoid Park with Gus Van Sant. Is he settling in Hollywood? 'Are you kidding?' he asks, looking perplexed. 'There's no way I'm leaving Hong Kong. This is my city. I can't even drive, and there're only white women there,' he says, referring to his fabled fondness of Asian women. The US studio system is a big change from Hong Kong, and Doyle still hasn't got used to it. He says the shared creativity, energy and humanity in Hong Kong filmmaking is sorely missing in Hollywood, where making movies is a rigid process. 'They don't think the same way we do. It's important for me to see something differently to know who you really are. It's a mirror, a reflection of what's really happening. If I keep doing the same thing here, everyone knows who I am, it just seems like masturbation. I don't enjoy it. I want to show them what we're doing is relevant and they would see it,' he says. His break from Hong Kong cinema (with the exception of Perhaps Love last year) raised speculation that he'd become disenchanted with Wong again after the gruelling five-year shoot of 2046. Their partnership is undeniably one of the most celebrated in world cinema. While describing their relationship as that of an old couple, Doyle had declared that they needed 'separate houses'. The time apart helps 'you realise how being together is important', he says. 'I've been missing him a bit,' he concedes, but for now there are no plans for further collaboration. Besides his reputation as a top cinematographer, Doyle's celebrity is boosted by his famous penchant for booze and Asian women. But the notoriety doesn't bother him. 'I notice the way people approach me is more open because they think I'm crazy. It's great,' he says. 'If someone thinks you're a businessman, but you're a really good cook, then it's interesting. So, women and beer is just a convenient way for us to talk.' He's now working on a theatre installation piece called Here Lies, based on the life of prominent French playwright and actor Antonin Artaud, who died in the 1950s. Film-wise he's looking at a busy schedule next year, with two movies reuniting him with Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Invisible Waves), and he will direct two projects himself. Settling into middle age hasn't changed Doyle's take on life: he's as self-critical as ever while accepting his own limits. 'You can't do what you want, you do what you can. Once you accept that, you can do a lot and you try harder for what you want,' he says. 'I'm more critical than you are of me. If I think I'm the greatest cinematographer in the world, I can't do better work.' The former drifter, sailor and oil rig worker breaks his profession down to its basics. 'What I do isn't my work, it's my life ... I just happen to make films. I also clean the house, take the plane, I don't see a difference between them. It's all about people. The real work is not about technical stuff, but to live well, so you know how to express yourself.'