How did "In the Mood for Love" come to be? Forum Index -> Tony Leung Articles
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 04, 2004 8:30 pm    Post subject: How did "In the Mood for Love" come to be?

Q: How did "In the Mood for Love" come to be? Originally, you were planning another feature…?

A: I was planning to make two films, before and after 1997. So, we started two projects at the time. One of the projects was "Happy Together." The other was to be "Summer in Beijing," a love story about two Hong Kong citizens who work in Beijing. But somehow, we had a problem with the censor, so we had to give up the film. So we moved to another project. I wanted to make a film about food: "Three Stories about Food." One story was called "Tales from the Kitchen," a love story between a chef and a cashier. The second story was called "Handsome Devil in Campbell's Soup," a love story between the owner of a supermarket and a customer. He wants to express his feelings, but he's too shy, so he keeps writing love letters to this woman by the alphabet in the Campbell's soup. He makes the soup every night and drinks it.

The third story was about neighbors: they live in the same building, and later they discover that their spouses are having an affair. The whole thing happened in noodle shops and restaurants, and it's in terms of food that they try to investigate how this affair happened… At first, I thought, "This film is about food." I kept asking myself if that was all - maybe this film is about marriage, or is it a love story? But in the end, I thought, "This film is about a certain period in Hong Kong which I know, but which doesn't exist any more."

I don't have a script, because I was a scriptwriter before I made my own films, and I hate writing. Also, I think that to have a script and then shoot it is very boring, because you have to imagine all the details in your mind, and to write it down is a process which I hate… I just want to make each process of making this film as interesting and exciting as possible, so that's why I always have a lot of segments and then I put it together. That's why sometimes I only started with a film with different short stories.

Q: For the leads in "In the Mood for Love," how did you decide on Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung? And how did the collaboration go this time?

A: Maggie and Tony have worked with me several times. In all those films, we had a lot of characters. This time, I thought we should make a film with Maggie and Tony alone, because I think they are two of the best actors in Hong Kong… I thought it would be interesting to make a film in which all the characters are played by Tony and Maggie, even the extras or people who just pass by the camera should be played by them… In "In the Mood for Love," we don't show the husband and wife - but sometimes I would ask Maggie and Tony to be the stand-ins.

They know the way that I work: both of them were in "Days of Being Wild," my second film, which took place in the 1960s. In that film, we created a 1960s Hong Kong. The approach this time is quite different, more realistic. In "In the Mood for Love," I wanted to create the environment and the period by details. We spent a lot of time to find the right elements: the way they walk, they way they talk. Not only for the actors, but also for me, to go back to that period. What we are looking for is the mood of the film in the mood of that period, so we spent a lot of time going back to that period.

Maggie and Tony had to get used to the clothes, the way they talked, the neighbors. Also, I wanted to create the whole thing through different points of view. The writing of the times - we have captions in the film from that period. Tony plays a journalist in the film, so I wanted him to know what that life was at that time - it was not something very romantic, as he thought, but it was huge work.

Q: Did you modify your filmmaking style at all for "In the Mood for Love?"

A: I think the style of the film should go along with the content. "In the Mood for Love" takes place in the 1960s, and I didn't think we should have the same style as "Chungking Express," or a lot of hand-held. The camera should be very steady. I wanted this film to be very quiet, very classical. I always put the camera behind something, because the film is about these two people trying to keep a secret from their neighbors. I wanted the audience to be one of the neighbors, the observers.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in bringing the past to life?

A: Hong Kong is changing very fast. It's very difficult to find these old buildings in Hong Kong any more. We took a lot of to find them, and we made two identical apartments. We shot most of the film in Bangkok, because we could not find those streets and some of the buildings in Hong Kong any more.

I tried to re-create the sound of that period. In the 60s, we didn't have TV, we just had radio - it was the "radio days" of Hong Kong. I even found retired radio broadcasters, invited them back in the studio, and recorded all these programs. For me, it's the most memorable part of this film: I tried to re-create something I know, that doesn't exist any more.

Q: What about the music of the period?

A: For me, music is not only for the mood, but also the sound. I came to Hong Kong when I was five, and the first things that impressed me were the sounds of the city, which was totally different from Shanghai. We had a lot of Western music in Hong Kong at that time, and most of the musicians in Hong Kong were from the Philippines, so there was a lot of Latin music in Hong Kong. The songs and music in "In the mood for Love" were very popular in restaurants at that time. The reason I wanted to use Nat King Cole's song in the film [a Spanish-language rendition of "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"] was because he was my mother's favorite singer.

We thought about the English title of this film for a long time. At the end, by chance, I went to HMV and picked up a CD of Bryan Ferry's, and there's a [cover] tune on it called "In the Mood for Love."

Q: Just how did the film's shooting schedule become so lengthy?

A: I was making two films at the time, because of the schedule problems. We were supposed to finish "In the Mood for Love" around the summer of 1999. Because of the Asian financial crisis, we had to stop the production for a while. The film's investor had problems, and so we had to find a new one. We were supposed to make "2046" afterwards, but at the end, we had something that we'd think, "That should belong to 'In the Mood for Love!'" And while we were making "In the Mood for Love," I'd think, "Well, that part relates to '2046'." So, at the end, I thought, "These two films have connections - and should be treated as one film." So there are some elements in "In the Mood for Love" that exist in "2046," and some elements in "2046" that exist in "In the Mood for Love."

"2046" is a film that happens 50 years after the 1997 Chinese government has promised Hong Kong 50 years unchanged. We want to explore if there are any things that will be unchanged for 50 years or longer. So - the whole process is like making a very long film that happens from 1962 to 2046. We wanted to end [the narrative timeline of] "In the Mood for Love" in 1996-97. But that was too much. We had to stop it, because I knew I could make this film forever, [and it would have run] 3, 4, 5 hours. I decided to end the film in 1967, which was a turning point in the history of Hong Kong, because of the riots and the Cultural Revolution in China. It was the first time that people were aware that Hong Kong was not as simple as before. People began to have the idea of moving to someplace else.

Q: What can you tell us about your longtime collaborator William Chang Suk-ping?

A: William is not only the production designer on "In the Mood for Love," he is also the editor. We've worked together since my first film. We are from the same background: we're both Shanghainese. So, "In the Mood for Love" is particularly personal to us. We didn't have to go through all this research, we just drew on things from our memories.

Q: Tell us the impressions that "In the Mood for Love" has left on you.

A: At first, I thought "In the Mood for Love" to be like chamber music. All the things happen in certain space: in apartment, in restaurants, on street corners. It's something very intimate, in an enclosed environment - people are trying to cover it. At the end of the film, I thought we should provide another perspective, and I wrote something which is totally different: something with histories and a more spiritual side.

At that time, we were shooting in Bangkok, and we were trying to find different places - a temple. One day, the production manager - our Thai line producer - said, "Why don't we shoot in Anghor Wat [in Cambodia]?" I said, "Is it possible?" He said, "We can try." It was only two days before we were going back to Hong Kong. It was the Cambodian New Year, so we had only half a day to get the permit. We were very lucky: we got the license, we got the permit, and so we went there. At first, I thought it would only take one day. But when I got there, the whole experience was different. It was much, much bigger than I expected. There were so many things in it - I wanted to make it longer, so I kept shooting and shooting. At the end, it took us three days to finish the whole scene. And, I think, it was the space that wanted for the ending of the film.

Q: Ultimately, how do you see "In the Mood for Love" in the context of your career?

A: I think "In the Mood for Love" is the most difficult film in my career so far, and also one of the most important. I'm very proud of it.

-- Overseen by Norman Wang

Director's Statement

Filming "In the Mood for Love" was the most difficult experience of my career. We began shooting two years ago, amid the Asian economic crisis. During the two years since then we have been through a lot: problems with censors, the departure of some members of my crew, and the challenge of telling an intimate story about only two people. We are physically and financially exhausted.

I'm always being asked when I will make the second part of "Days of Being Wild," a film I remember with great affection. Over the years, I often asked myself the same question. Time moved on, but I kept looking for an answer.

"In the Mood for Love" happily reunites me with Tony and Maggie Cheung. In a sense, this film answers the question I've been asking myself for so long.
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