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In The Mood For Love

In The Mood For Love

By Ben Nicholson • February 5th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Block 2 Pictures/Jet Tone Production/Paradis Films

Original release: October 27th, 2000
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 98 Mins

Country of origin: Hong Kong
Original language: Cantonese with English subtitles

Writer and director: Wong Kar Wai

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung

In The Mood For Love is, for my money, the second best film ever made. It is absolutely perfect cinema. Cantonese director Wong Kar Wai is a filmmaker that I greatly admire; I can easily see why he has such an avid following and his earlier film Chungking Express is another that rightly challenges for spots on people’s Top 10 lists.

It is this film however, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung and forming the middle of an informal trilogy (preceded by Days of Being Wild in 1991, and followed by 2046 in 2004), that he hits his absolute heights. With stellar performances, a touching story and some of the most beautiful cinematography in the history of the medium, it is a true delight.

Inspired, at least partly, by Mu Fei’s 1948 melodrama Springtime in a Small Town, the plot of the film is a relatively simple one. Mrs Chan (Cheung) and Mr Chow (Leung) move into rooms in neighbouring flats with their spouses in 1960’s Hong Kong. They pass only fleetingly in hallways and speak occasionally and purely out of a sense of politeness. We never actually see either of their significant others, Mr Chan is often away on business in Japan and Mrs Chow works late most nights and often arrives home after Mr Chow is asleep.

In The Mood For Love

Even when they are home, we tend to see only our two protagonists, the spouses out of frame or seen only briefly from behind. One night, after it becomes apparent that their partners are having an affair with each other, Mr Chow and Mrs Chan have a drink together and begin a bizarre pseudo-affair, where they play the parts of their partners’ lovers (Mr Chow plays Mr Chan and vice-versa) as they imagine how the affair began and who made the first move. As they spend more time together they resolve to not become like their cheating spouses; but feelings don’t work like that.

The creation of a palpable tension (both romantic and sexual) between Mr Chow and Mrs Chan is done masterfully throughout this film and although the filmmakers’ refusal to show us their respective partners may initially feel slightly affected, it is due to the mastery of Wong and his cinematographer Christopher Doyle that this soon feels so natural as to be the only way that things could be done. It all adds to the sense of claustrophobia in the cramped apartments where the neighbours will spend days on end at the Mah-jong table and in a Hong Kong where it constantly storms and rains against dilapidated walls.

In The Mood For Love

Maggie Cheung is wonderful as the very proper Mrs Chan, a woman who spends her evenings at the pictures or going to the noodle stall alone for dinner, preferring her own company to that of her landlord whilst she awaits her husband’s return. She works as a secretary and spends her days facilitating her own boss’ affair by organising his dates and lying to his wife whilst buying gifts for both of his women.

This obviously has a cruel irony to it as we realise that her husband is doing just the same. Tony Leung is one of the finest actors working today and he is at his very best as the lonely frustrated Mr Chow, who never sees his wife and dreams of quitting his job as a newspaper editor to write martial arts serials; I think that he is one of the best smokers of a cigarette in film, such meaning is conveyed by each drag. It is also interesting that due to Leung’s marvellous performance and the sympathy drawn by it, the audience never seems to question the motives of two characters or what is actually a rather weird scenario that they end up in.

In The Mood For Love

As I have previously mentioned, the film is shot wonderfully: slow-motion sequences watch Mrs Chan sashaying down the alley to the noodle stall; conversations in the busy apartment building are obscured by door frames and people; clandestine meetings of our two protagonists sheltering beneath the eaves in a rainstorm and the smoke rising up the strip lighting in Chow’s office all drip with atmosphere with the director balancing the different elements impeccably – the music complements the performances, the tone, the story and the visuals flawlessly, especially Yumeji’s Theme by Umebayshi Shigeru.

The film can easily be considered as a film about desire or about moral restraint and Wong Kar Wai has stated in the past that his is surprised that audiences see the relationship as so innocent. Personally, I consider the film to be a perfect mix of the two for without the sense of romantic and/or sexual tension, we would be unable to fully empathise with the moral stance that the characters attempt to take.

The apparent refusal to consummate their relationship despite their clear feelings for one another, coupled with the two performances makes for heart-breaking stuff; the final scene in Hong Kong when Chow goes to visit Mr Koo and then the close at Angkor Wat in Cambodia summing the melancholy of the situation up perfectly.

In short, I cannot praise this film highly enough, it is an out and out masterpiece and I urge people to check it out – you won’t regret it!

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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