Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, In The Mood For Love is a Chinese romantic drama starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. It premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and has since received many accolades around the world.
At first glance, the story might sound very familiar: set in 1960s Hong Kong, a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung) who live in the same building discover that each other’s spouses are having an affair. They start seeing each other, first re-enacting how their spouses could have fallen in love, and then spending time together chatting and keeping each other company. They do say that they are “not going to be like them”, engaging in a platonic relationship. However, as time goes on, they start having deep feelings about one another.
“Feelings can creep up like that. I thought I was in control”.
– Chow Mo-wan
This sentence perfectly encapsulates the study of love showcased in this film. The movie was originally intended to be less subtle and more like your typical romantic movie, but during filming the director and actors decided to go for a more gentle and thoughtful story.
The strongest colour used in the movie is red: red for the passion between the couple; red for the love that is blooming; red for the desire that Chow and Su have to keep secret. This colour is found in the tapestry, the qipao that Su wears, and the warm lights of the bedrooms where the two lovers could share the feelings, instead repressing them to not contradict their beliefs.
Yet that feeling has always been there. As much as we try to deny it, the deepest kind of love (the one that is not carnal, but that improves your spirit and enlightens your approach to the divine) is so strong and powerful that repressing it, as hard and just as it can be, will cause nothing but pain. Ever since Chow laid eyes on Su, there was a connection: a smile of courtesy, a smile of interest, a smile of attraction.
While we never get to see the faces of the cheating spouses (thus negating childish comments such as “She is prettier” or “He has a manly figure” that are usually found in other films and are often a way of slightly justifying the betrayal), the juxtaposition of other characters works great. The landlady of Su and the other neighbours of the building are always happy and never alone, sometimes playing games of mahjong for many hours on end; meanwhile Su is lonely, even rejecting the company of others, waiting for her husband to come back from a work trip.
The most interesting character to me was Ah Ping, close friend of Mr. Chow. He is the yin to Chow’s yen: the former is more focused on physical love, frequently going to a whorehouse and always interested in the looks of women rather than their true feelings, while the latter is a husband wholly devoted to a wife that neglects him, a man who falls in love after having conversed with another woman.
Another strong concept found in the film is time. While it is told in a linear order in the strictest sense of the way, it feels more like reliving memories rather than watching a straightforward story. Most scenes end with a short fade-to-black, with the subsequent scene starting right after without explaining how much time has passed. While this might be confusing to some, a strong indicator of whether or not we are in the same day are the clothes that Su wears, which are different in every scene (there were 46 qipao in total). The excellent editing of William Chang (who was also the production and costume designer) is never confusing and always slowly-paced, giving the film a relaxed tone that goes well with the overall subtlety.
The cinematography by Christopher Doyle (who had to leave after the film went over schedule) and Lee Pin-bing is among the best ones of this century, especially in how they manage to keep the same locations from getting stale by using long takes and a frequent use of mirrors.
The music is used masterfully here. The main theme by Shigeru Umebayashi (called “Yumeji’s Theme”, from Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji) is often used in the first act of the movie during slow-motion sequences when Su and Chow meet inside the building, out in the rain or on the stairwell, and the melancholic vibe that it evokes is of pure beauty. Another song prominently featured is “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” (better known as “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”) sang by Nat King Cole: the song, about a man who does not get a clear answer from a woman he loves, perfectly showcases the feelings of Mr. Chow, who hopes that Su will leave her husband to go live with him, hoping that she will call back, hoping that she will answer the phone.
Overall, In The Mood For Love is among the finest movies you will see, with incredible and believable acting that has actors disappearing into their roles, deep themes executed with care and passion that can be found in every frame and musical choice, and a love story that is both unconventional and familiar, set in the past and yet very topical. An excellent film that I highly recommend to those looking for something quiet and different from the usual rom-com or melodrama. Easily among my favorite movies of all-time, that I intend to rewatch multiple times in the future.
Visual Effects: 10
Violence & Gore: 2
Sex & Nudity: 2
Drugs & Profanity: 0
Intensity & Horror: 2