Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" might be described as a
Hong Kong inaction film. It's about an extremely internalized love affair, in
which two reluctant lovers struggle with varying degrees of success to repress
their passion for each other.
Alas, as stylish as it is, it manages to repress the passions of its
Set in Hong Kong in 1962, it begins with the arrival of two new roomers
subletting two rooms in two adjacent apartments. That parallelism -- they move
in on the same day, their goods are mixed up by the movers, both have spouses
otherwise engaged -- is furthered by the following development: Those
otherwise engaged and unseen spouses are off somewhere having an affair with
Thus Chow (Tony Leung) and Su (Maggie Cheung) seem obligated to respond in
kind. Obligated by whom? Well, by fate, by writer-director Wong, by the fact
that each is lonely and in search of comfort and companionship, that each
feels betrayed and abandoned.
To increase the stakes, each is exquisitely beautiful. This means a movie
law clicks in: We think, because we have been so conditioned from so many
movies, that beauty deserves beauty, that it is entitled to beauty. So in a
sense, their obligation also is to an audience. They have to sleep together or
we will be disappointed.
The truth is, this sounds far more explosive than it plays. The two are
extremely fitful, haunted by guilt, wracked by doubt, restricted in expression
by culture, watched hawklike by their respective good-intentioned but nosy
landlords. The movie's sensuality is not in its bodies but in symbolic
manifestations of its film-world: the billowing of red curtains, the endless
shots that seem to mythologize Cheung as she walks up the stairs in her
sheathlike Suzy Wong dresses, Leung's romantic suffering and smoking.
The affair itself is more like a slow-motion dance than a consummation of
the sweaty flesh, consisting of a whole symphony of gestures and longing
looks, chance encounters in the rain, almost-knocked-on doors, telephones
unanswered, a general sense of groping but not gripping.
I wish I could report that a feverish erotic tension builds, but it really
doesn't. In fact at times the film plays like Alain Resnais' notoriously
elliptical "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," in which possibilities are
suggested but physical and emotional clarity is not certain.
One thing is clear: that as themselves, Chow and Su are too timid for
romance. But almost as a therapeutic device, each uses the other to
"rehearse" for that final confrontation with the wayward spouse, and
in that way they seem able to reach some kind of emotional reality. That
appears to be the mechanism that enables more than eyes to meet.
The movie seems to suggest a truth about infidelity with which most
therapists would agree: that the relationships are never really twosomes and
never really about sex; rather, they are about and involve somehow that
missing third person, the cheated upon (in the case of two marrieds committing
adultery, there are two ghosts).
So in that sense, "In the Mood for Love" is more a ghost story
than a love story, but it's also more a puzzle than a solution. It puts you in
the mood for an aspirin and an early night.
In Thrall to a Romantic Spell
Hong Kong's Wong Kar-wai creates a lush atmosphere fraught with
possibilities in 'In the Mood for Love.'
Source: Los Angeles Times, Feb 2, 2001 pF-2.
Author: Kenneth Turan
Given that it settled on a title scant days before its world premiere last
year at Cannes, "In the Mood for Love" is remarkably well-named. A
swooningly cinematic exploration of romantic longing, both restrained and
sensual, luxuriating in color, texture and sound, this film raises its
fascination with enveloping atmosphere and suppressed emotion to a ravishing,
almost hypnotic level.
With Hong Kong stars Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung playing a couple
caught in a vortex of quiet passion, "In the Mood for Love" will
likely be the breakthrough work for that city's celebrated writer-director
Wong Kar-wai, an international critical favorite whose previous films,
including "Days of Being Wild" and "Chungking Express,"
have had limited exposure in this country.
This time, however, the conventional nature of the material--a love story
that is not only set in Hong Kong in 1962, but is PG-chaste enough to have
been filmed then and there--makes it easier to appreciate the visual assurance
and provocative, intimate directing style that have made all seven of Wong's
films major award-winners. (At Cannes, "In the Mood" took the best
actor award for Leung and also received the Grand Prix de la Technique for its
Married but not to each other, Chow Mo-wan (Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Cheung)
meet when they rent adjacent rooms in a large apartment building. His wife has
the late shift as a hotel receptionist, while her husband, Mr. Chan, works for
a Japanese company and is often away on business, which means that no one,
including the audience, gets more than a fleeting glimpse of either spouse.
Both these people are quiet, considerate, exquisitely polite and much less
boisterous than their landlord's extended family. Earnest and boyish, with
carefully slicked-down hair, Mr. Chow works as a journalist, but with his
anonymous suit and tie, he could be any kind of businessman. Mrs. Chan,
however, would stand out anywhere.
Poised and impeccably turned out, with never so much as a hair out of
place, Mrs. Chan has the ability to stop your heart just by walking from her
room to a neighborhood take-out stand with a combination of grace and
loneliness that seems almost tragic. As costumed by William Chang Suk-ping,
she dresses in nothing but cheongsams, more than 20 in a wonderful variety of
fabrics, giving the traditional high-necked sheath once popular in Shanghai
more screen time than it's had since "The World of Suzie Wong." Even
her neighbors are impressed. "She dresses up like that," one of them
says, "to go out for noodles."
Ever so gradually, as hints mount and their paths cross on the way to
lonely take-out dinners, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan come to realize that not only
are both their spouses having an affair, but they're having it with each
other. This naturally brings these two closer, but because they are innately
decent people and still care for their partners, how involved they will allow
themselves to become turns into a potent, disruptive question with a
surprising amount of emotional pull.
Essential in giving their quandary its due is the director's choice of
visual styles. Working with two cameramen, his regular director of
photography, Christopher Doyle, and Mark Li Ping-bin, who usually films for
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Wong Kar-wai turns his lens into a visual
eavesdropper, peering around corners and looking at things from covert angles,
the better to emphasize both the confining, restrictive nature of the
characters' lives--"One can't put a foot wrong," Mrs. Chan
wails--and the potentially illicit nature of their relationship.
Adding to the superb sense of ambience is the film's alluring use of muted
yet vivid color. With sublime production design (William Chang Suk-ping once
again, and he also did the editing), "In the Mood" is a dream of
complementary pastels, with window blinds, wallpaper, kitchen appliances,
shower curtains, even telephones all part of a rapturous color scheme. Also
helping is the melancholy, insinuating music, by Michael Galasso and
Umebayashi Shigeru, with some haunting Nat King Cole singing in Spanish
artfully thrown into the mix.
Though Wong began in films as a screenwriter, as a director he's known not
to believe in scripting anything until the very last minute. This method
doesn't usually have a high percentage of success, but in this case, because
his stars have worked several times both with him and with each other, a
surprising amount of intimacy is achieved. The result is a kind of ultimate
romantic film, joining an almost Jamesian sadness and discipline to that
extraordinary visual sensibility. It's not the kind of thing you see every