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In The Mood For Love (2000)


Sexy posterage!

Genre: Romantic Drama (Hong Kong, France)

Starring: Maggie Cheung (Supercop 2046), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (HeroInfernal Affairs

Directed By: Wong Kar Wai (Happy Together Chungking Express)

Overview: A man and a woman living next to each other fall in love while suspecting their spouses are having an affair abroad.

Wong Kar Wai’s films aren’t known for their intricately tight plots. He’s a far more fluid ‘let’s explore human nature’s romantic side’ kind of guy. In fact he doesn’t even really use a script. Three of his films are featured in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book: Happy Together, Chungking Express, and this, his most famous, In the Mood for Love. Let’s explore it together shall we?

It’s 1962 Hong Kong and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) move into tenement apartments next to each other on the same day. Their meeting is inevitable, especially since the movers constantly mistake their belongs. They’re both married but their spouses go abroad, leaving the two of them to pass by one another and exchange pleasantries until their attraction forces them to admit it to themselves and eventually to each other. They both also realize that their spouses are most likely having an affair with each other. The story might seem like it would write itself from this point but Wong Kar Wai plays out the love story of In the Mood for Love differently. Rather than immediately jumping into a 9½ Weeks-style love affair, the characters resist. They live in the dense, judging population of 1960s Hong Kong. They want to stay loyal to their values, to their spouses, and with this as their biggest barrier, we explore their growing romantic love for one another and what may or may not come of it.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Mo-wan fairly straight. Handsome and dapper, he’s an intelligent and patient man. He is the Yin to Li-zhen’s Yang. Though she’s a calm woman, her appearance is vibrant. Fashion has rarely been something I’ve pointed out in film, but William Chang’s incredible costume design for Li-zhen’s 60s cheongsams is absolutely one of the reasons to watch In the Mood for Love. What’s more, Wong Kar Wai knew it and frequently shows Maggie Cheung in full shots to dwell on the beauty she exudes – her dresses are gorgeous.

 Wong was right to focus so much on her...
Wong was right to focus so much on her...

In the Mood for Love’s storytelling style does some wonderful things to manipulate his audience. Most obvious is how we never really meet Li-zhen’s husband or Mo-wan’s wife. We hear the husband’s voice and we see the wife briefly from the back, but these serve as nothing more than providing proof that these people exist. It adds an ethereal element to our protagonists spouses that makes us side with our heroes, that makes us wonder why they’re even bothering to resist their passions.

Unfortunately the pacing often hurts. For the first twelve minutes, for the last five, and for a smattering of moments throughout, I just wandered off in my own mind, drawn away from shots that enhanced what I’ll call those ‘etheral’ or ‘pastoral’ moments. This overall atmosphere is no surprise, Wong having used a similar effects in Chungking Express, but I had trouble enjoying them. Still there are incredible scenes. My favourite has Li-zhen and Mo-wan in a stage in their friendship when they no longer have any doubt that there is an attraction between them. They are dining out and Li-zhen asks Mo-wan to order for her what his wife would eat. She, in turn, orders for Mo-wan what her husband would. We cut to Li-zhen eating a steak. Mo-wan adds some hot chili sauce to her plate. Li-zhen dips in her steak, takes a bite, and although obviously not enjoying the experience, keeps doing it, her voice strained from the heat. For one night this couple lives vicariously as the other’s spouse, and is a terrific scene that paves the way for a growing unlikely romance.

In the Mood for Love is absolutely an Art-House film, and though the pacing is as loose as the plot, it’s not surprising that it found its’ way to the pages of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. I can’t safely recommend it to everyone, but it’s definitely romantic.

 Did I mention those dresses? Only twice?
Did I mention those dresses? Only twice?

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 70% (You Might Just Have To Be In The Mood Already…)

Unfortunately my viewing experience was not ideal. The muted colour palette of In the Mood for Love, with shocks of vibrant splashes of colour was unfortunately muddied by our host’s projector, turning dusky corners into imperceptible blacks and bright clothing merely noticeably lighter… perhaps a proper screening would have made those plotless pastoral moments beauteous to behold.

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This is absolutely one of my favorite films. Sad you had a bad experience.

Though I've only seen this film once, I was astounded by the cinematography and the soundtrack.  At first, I thought to myself: "Oh great, another slow art house movie that will feel like homework."


But the movie isn't actually slow.  It demands a lot from the viewer because, like all great modern works of art, the pieces of the puzzle are as much visually thematic as they are plot-driven (more so, actually).  Both leads are endowed by their director with such grace and beauty that it is almost indulgent, what with the cello playing, the secret looks highlighted by slow motion, and the sexy high neck outfits.  They must be seen by the audience like this because that's how they see each other.  This creates a richness to the heartbreak at the end that penetrates layers deep.  Big fan of this movie.

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