Two of Asia's screen legends pair up to dazzling effect in Wong Kar-wai's rapturousnew film about love and repression in 1960s Hong Kong.
By Catherine Hang
Source: Harper's Bazaar, 2-2001, Pg159-160
In the lush, enigmatic Chinese-language film In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung manage to pull off the most romantic movie in recent memory without even kissing. Positioned like a voyeur behind doorways and street corners, the camera sneaks glimpses of the couple standing in an alley in the rain, squeezing past each other in a-noodle-shop stairwell, and tentatively letting their fingers touch. Wong Kar-wai is Hong Kong's most admired filmmaker,known for his intensely romantic yet hard-boiled and visually daring modes. Though this film is decidedly more classical informs than Wong's previous work (Chungking Express, Happy Together), it is clearly his own. In the Mood tells the story of neighbors who realize their spouses are having an affair. At first, they are drawn to each other out of mutual curiosity and suffering. Inevitably, they fall in love, and the film becomes an elaborate waltz of restraint versus action, duty versus desire.
"His films are always about things that you regret not saying or doing that stay with you your whole life," says Cheung,who has starred in three of Wong's previous films. With hero wide, expressive eyes and graceful mien, she completely inhabits the role of Li-zhen, the impossibly poised wife who rarely has a hair or an emotion out of place. Cheung slinks trough the film like a latter-day Deneuve in a seemingly endless succession of beautiful custom-made cheongsams. "At first, I had trouble opening up tothe role. I felt very stiff and uptight I had to convince myself there could be such a woman who wants to be so perfect all the time," she says wit a laugh.
The 35-year-old actress has appeared in an astonishing 75 films, includingJackie Chan's first tree Police Story movies. More recently, she has enhanced her international reputation withthe art-house hit Irma lisp (directed by her husband, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas). She has already been cast in Steven Spielberg's much-anticipated adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha.
In the Mood marks the fifth film in which Cheung has been paired with Tony Leung, 38. Smoothly handsome in his gray silk shantung suits, his hair carefully groomed inthe style of the en, his character is as tentative as Li-zhen in declaring his feelings; Leung's understatedperformance won him the award for Best Actor at Cannes. "He is a writer, but he doesn't know how to express himself," explains Leung, who has appeared in a total of five Wong Kar-wai films. In person, the slim, reticent actor exudes the same detached cool of the characters he often plays on-screen.Kar-wai and I have been making movies together for so long tat we completely trust each other," he says. "But you never know the whole story until you see the film."
In fact, the story did change, somewhat to the surprise of both actors, after the movie was shot Their love scenes were edited out, leaving what does or does not transpire between them ultimately unrevealed. In the Mood ends with an alluring mystery but themasterful final product speaks to the wisdom of letting the audience fill in the blanks..