In The Mood For Love
Written by: Richard James Havis
Published in: Cannes Festival on May 21, 2000
In The Mood For Love is one of two films Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai has recently completed shooting in Thailand. The movie features Tony Leung Chi-wai (Happy Together) and Maggie Cheung (Comrades, Almost A Love Story) in a story about a man and a woman trying to track down the infidelities of their respective spouses.
The crew consists of Wong regular Chris Doyle behind the camera (although he only shot half of the film) and art director/editor William Chang. Locked in the editing room (as usual) right up to the last minute, Wong still found time to discuss the movie with Moving Pictures.
MP: What can you tell us about the plot of In The Mood For Love?
WK-W(Wong Kar-wai): The film happens in 1962 in Hong Kong. Maggie and Tony are neighbours. They are both married and somehow they discover that both their spouses are having affairs. The film shows them trying to
find out how the affairs started. It’s a different kind of film for me. The characters are more mature it’s the first time I’ve touched on marriage, for instance.
MP: Days Of Being Wild was also set in the 1960s. Why did you return to that period?
WK-W: I am fond of that period, although at that time I was very young. This movie is about rumours, lies and gossip and there was a lot of that in Hong Kong communities at that time. In the 1960s, we still had neighbours that we knew and talked to. We don’t now. [Wong was born in Shanghai in 1958, and his family moved to Hong Kong.] We set the film in a Shanghainese community where everybody knew everybody else. The people want to appear very decent and they try to cover up the dark side of life. My two protagonists, Tony and Maggie, have to pretend that nothing has happened. But they are in pain all the time.
MP: Were you influenced by the Hong Kong “family” films of the 1960s? They often had people covering up secrets…
WK-W: No, I was more influenced by my own experiences. As a kid, I always saw my uncle and aunts looking very decent. Then we would hear our parents gossiping about them. One reason that I was attracted to this story was because I wanted to rebuild that kind of atmosphere.
MP: There aren’t many old buildings left in Hong Kong. Is that why you shot in Thailand?
WK-W: Yes. It’s very difficult to find 1960s locations in Hong Kong. I was making another film, 2046, in Bangkok, and I realised that we could recreate 1960s Hong Kong there. We also went to Cambodia there are a few scenes at the end shot at Angkor Wat.
MP: With Happy Together, you shot Buenos Aires as if you were shooting Hong Kong. You ignored the city’s stately Latin look in favour of small alleys. But here, obviously, you were using Bangkok as an actual stand-in.
WK-W: Yes, in Happy Together, we were trying to create a Hong Kong in Argentina, and I wanted the audience to notice that that was what we were doing. But this time, we have to convince people that Bangkok actually is Hong Kong.
MP: From the synopsis, it sounds as if the story demands a firmer structure than your usual work. You usually construct the story in the editing room, but I guess that would be more difficult here.
WK-W: Yes, there is more of a story structure for us to edit this time. There is a stronger, more defined storyline than there is in my other films. We are trying to do something very melodramatic, although we still want to make it interesting.
MP: What did you and cinematographer Chris Doyle come up with for the look of the picture this time? Any wide-angle experiments like in Fallen Angels? Or upside-down shots like in Happy Together?
WK-W: It’s different. We tried to make the film look very classical. There are no hand-held cameras, which is something new. Chris finished half the film, but he had another obligation, so I used another cameraman to finish it.
MP: Was it difficult shooting 2046 and In The Mood For Love together?
WK-W: Yes, it was like falling in love with two women. When we were looking for locations for 2046, I kept thinking, oh, that would be good for In The Mood For Love. And vice versa. It was very unbalancing for me.
Then I realised that, by necessity, the two films must have a certain kind of relationship. They became like one film. And I shot some scenes for each on the same locations.
Richard James Havis