In The Mood For Love

It is a restless moment.
She has kept her head lowered,
to give him a chance to come closer.
But he could not, for lack of courage.
She turns and walks away.

That era has passed.
Nothing that belonged to it exists any more.

He remembers those vanished years.
As though looking through a dusty window pane,
the past is something he could see, but not touch.
And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

Reviews From Other Critics*

*Oooh boy! Mama says, 'Never touch the edge.'
This review is by Jaime N. Christley of It's the best I've seen so far.
The only other Wong Kar-wai film I've seen was Chunking Express, thanks to its video release by Quentin Tarantino's "Rolling Thunder" distribution company. I liked it, and searched in vain for other work by the Hong Kong auteur, such as Happy Together (which netted him the Best Director prize at Cannes). In the Mood For Love, his latest Cannes hit, stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai, who has made six pictures with Kar-wai since 1991, and Maggie Cheung, as next-door neighbors in a Shanghai apartment complex. Both characters are married, but upon learning of their respective spouses secret affair, they contemplate a fling of their own.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, you may be recalling 1999's absolutely dreadful Sydney Pollack movie Random Hearts - my pick for the worst of that year. And if that puts you in a vague despair, snap out of it, because while In the Mood For Love doesn't entirely succeed as the minimalist melodrama it sets out to be, it has more real beauty in a single shot than in all of Random Hearts's one hundred thirty-three unfortunate minutes, despite Pollack's efforts to polish and shine the actors and the sets. In the Mood For Love, which was photographed by Mark Lee Ping-bin and frequent Kar-wai collaborator Christopher Doyle, is packed with gorgeous shots of the evenings nights of 1962, with gentle breezes and occasional downpours, and of the two leads, who are as beautiful as you could ask for in a romance story. There are lovely shots in this film - perhaps too many - that belong in classic romance movies from MGM, the ones that had weeping violins on the soundtrack. Leung and Cheung could easily be supplanted with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, or Bogart and Bacall, or Gregory Peck, or Ann Sheridan. And the cinematography doesn't just sell prettiness, either; it captures moments, emotions, and gestures. It's wonderful to find a director that knows how to sit back and let the actors do their thing, and provide them with excellent backdrops.

Which is all well and good, but my praise comes with a few reservations. What works for In the Mood For Love also works against it - there is so little to Kar-wai's tale that it seems to weigh less than the waves of light carrying it from the projector to the screen, and even though the running time is only just over ninety minutes, it somehow seems a drag, and at its worst, a repititious bore. I could tell what Kar-wai wanted to do, especially when this film is put side-by-side with Chunking Express - he wanted to (I assume) explore the nature of closeness, of proximity, of lovers coming just ever so close but never really touching. This notion of crossed paths, suppressed urges, and missed opportunities is represented quite literally, practically shown to us on placards, and this may account for the story's unsatisfying resolution. You want them to be in love, and so they are. You know that they cannot consummate their passion, and they do not. We really hope they can break free of their chains, and so we see them really wanting to break free of their chains. But we know it is not to be. And Wong Kar-wai shuttles them out of the geographical area before they begin breaking things over their own heads.

If this had been a European director, and if the story had been set in an environment of suppression equivalent to Kar-wai's Shanghai, I think the guy and the gal would have succumbed to their passions and hit the sack. And they still would not be able to connect. That would have provided the kind of insoluble dilemma that could breathe life into the story. But then, we wouldn't have been in the sweetly dysfunctional world of Wong Kar-wai.
Here's A Flowery Review from Elvis Mitchell, but don't read it if you haven't seen the film. He writes movie reviews for the New York Times. This was actually the first review of his that I've read. I heard him speaking on NPR one time, and he seems to have a good sense of humor. He has a nice voice too. Doesn't sound like a New Yorker at all.
September 30, 2000

It is a restless moment. Hong Kong 1962, reads a title card at the beginning of "In the Mood for Love", and a restiveness that's almost voluptuous like that first blush of love when you can barely concentrate on anything else and the world seems new and strange fills the movie. "Mood" is a great word, because a lot of the movie is mood. The principals are caught as the camera peers at them through the edges of doorways. Its writer and director, Wong Kar-wei, is one of that gifted new breed of moviemakers who think through the lens, and he uses that talent to give the film a heated, rapturous quality; the camera floats along, sneaking a look at the performers out of the corner of its eye. Narrative has rarely been a motivating factor for him; instead his heart spills out onto the screen.

Mr. Wong is infatuated with the headiness of pop and he's brilliant at using it, as with the Nat King Cole songs that play repeatedly throughout. Cole's pearly enunciation reflects the refinement of the stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They play a couple married to other people who are renting rooms in apartments right next door, and they eventually discover that their spouses are having affairs with each other.

The journalist Chow Mowan (Mr. Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Ms. Cheung) come to lean on each other, and that need is suffused with desire, which they're unsure how to act upon. They're the characters who are usually the victims in a James M. Cain story.

Mr. Wong used the title of a Rolling Stones song, "As Tears Go By," for one of his pictures, a confused but powerful action film about loyalty, and it would fit as the name of any of them. It would certainly lend itself to "Mood," which is a film about confusion over loyalties. Nat King Cole could be all surface, and Mr. Wong angles the singer's glossiness against the want of the couple, who constantly stare at each other through glazed, hurting eyes; he plunges beneath those surfaces, and it's gripping. This may be one of the swooniest movies ever made about love, and it luxuriates in its tailspin.

"In the Mood for Love" is probably the most breathtakingly gorgeous film of the year, dizzy with a nose-against-the-glass romantic spirit that has been missing from the cinema forever, a spirit found in F. Scott Fitzgerald, the best Roxy Music and minor-key romantic movies like the forgettable 1956 "Miracle in the Rain," where the lovers' suffering is sealed because of the chasteness of the era. Sex scenes couldn't be spelled out, and as in Mr. Wong's film, yearning becomes the epoxy that holds the material together.

The pining here is so graceful that you may be transfixed by it. Instead of explicit physical tangles Mr. Wong eroticizes each movement of his camera, something not many others could do because no one can cut within a camera move the way he does. "Mood" fits the tradition of audacity at the New York Film Festival, where "Last Tango in Paris" once changed movies forever. This film goes so far in the other direction that there's a fetishistic fixation on clothes; the beautiful floral-patterned silk dresses worn by Ms. Cheung have a sexual charge.

It is said that Mr. Wong shot a sex scene and decided not to use it. It's a great instinct; this is a love story whose intensity comes from the fact that the skin stays covered most of the time. Ms. Cheung wears dresses with slightly exaggerated shoulders, trim-waisted and cowl-necked, to accentuate her own flutelike neck. Mr. Leung wears a charcoal silk shantung suit with a selection of ties to make it look different each time.

The camera is perched like a voyeur, snatching glimpses from doorways and corners, gazing lovingly at this couple who are stranded in unhappy marriages. Allusive and bittersweet, the film uses characters to advance metaphor in the picture- puzzle manner that Michael Ondaatje used in the novel "The English Patient"; you may not be sure if it's about people or pop or filmmaking. It's actually fascinated with all these things, the product of a director who works primarily on instinct.

That instinct is most poignant and evident in a scene where the movie seems to be getting at the truth. Ms. Cheung tells Mr. Leung she knows he has a lover and weakly flings a slap at his cheek. No, he admonishes her, that's not how it's done. But we realize that something entirely different is going on, and the misery goes even deeper because this scene is also about their eventual parting.

Mr. Wong uses the song's title to set his pace it's not heard in the film and he looks at these characters through the heart-addled haze of pop songs. "That era has passed. Nothing that belongs to it exists anymore," reads a title at the end. This film is a sweet kiss blown to a time long since over, a time that may have existed only in the movies, with ballads recorded in mono while hand- sewn clothing lay perfectly over the bodies of the stars. "In the Mood for Love" is just that.

Quotes from Wong Kar-Wai, director of In the Mood for Love
From Summer in Beijing to In the Mood for Love
In 1994, I made Ashes of Time, a martial arts film set a thousand years ago. During pre-production, I spent a summer month in Beijing. One night, while my taxi was driving past Tiananmen Square, I heard John Coltrane's music on the radio. I got the idea to make a new film.

Two years later, we arrived at the city to prepare for that film, with a working title Summer in Beijing. The film crew and I spent a lot of time in Sanlituan. There were many pubs in that area, and we heard some Chinese contemporary music. We were especially impressed by one song, "Face to Face," which reminded me of that night and Coltrane. But this film did not happen-as if the summer we spent in Beijing never really took place.

We moved to Argentina for Happy Together. In 1998, we returned to Hong Kong. The summer in Beijing was too cold for us. We decided to do something else and started filming in Hong Kong, later moving to Thailand and then Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Between Summer in Beijing and In the Mood for Love, eras changed, locales changed, and the music changed. We moved far from contemporary jazz to nostalgic waltz.

A Handsome Devil with a Cigarette
The first film I worked with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai was Days of Being Wild. He is a quiet man who likes to smoke a lot. Somehow, we get along well and have worked on four subsequent films. We communicate in rather peculiar ways. Most of the time, we don't have a complete script. Often, I give Tony a song or some music as reference.

I don't know whether my working style fits Tony, but throughout these years, he seldom complains. Most of the time, when I ask him to listen to a piece of music, he would do so sitting in a corner, holding a cigarette and peeking at me with a devilish smile.

Osamu Dazai once wrote a short story entitled "A Handsome Devil with a Cigarette." I had always thought it was a great title for a film. I like Dazai a lot. Tony reminds me of him.

On Making In the Mood For Love
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 Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. In a sense, this film answers the question I've been asking myself for so long.


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