Published on September 29th, 2000 | by Padraic Coffey0
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Few films are more aptly-titled than Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. Though primarily a film about love, specifically the unconsummated variety, it is also a film about mood, mood that is conjured up by Kar-wai, who wrote, directed and produced, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle and production designer/editor William Chang. The setting is a cramped apartment building in 1960s Hong Kong, where Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) have recently moved in beside one another. Their evenings are largely spent in the absence of their spouses. Leung works late in his newspaper office, attempting to co-ordinate meals with his wife, which are invariably snubbed. Cheung attends movies on a regular basis, to compensate for her husband’s lengthy spells away on “business”.
Passing each other in the building’s narrow hallways, the two meet one evening over noodles, and deduce that both their partners are having an affair together. They spend the remainder of the film hypothesising on how this infidelity may have began, while resisting the urge to succumb to their own mutual desires.
Kar-wai’s storytelling style is decidedly understated but not passive. He utilises fade-outs, jump cuts, panning and slow-motion to convey the passage of time, often accompanied by repeated – but not repetitive – use of the film’s hauntingly beautiful musical motif, ‘Yumeji’s Theme’ by Shigeru Umebayashi. Christopher Doyle’s sumptuous photography captures every wisp of smoke from Leung’s cigarettes, and every immaculately designed, figure-hugging dress worn by Cheung.
Infidelity and double-standards are present throughout the film. Cheung is responsible for balancing her employer’s schedule between seeing his wife and his mistresses, as well as obtaining Japanese handbags to be gifted to each of his companions; yet, she is reluctant to be seen in public with Leung, for fear of the stigma which would follow, not least from their inquisitive landlady, Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan). Kar-wai wisely opts to leave both adulterous spouses off-screen, teasingly misdirecting audience expectations in scenes where Cheung and Leung discuss if and how they will confront their significant others.
Both performances from the two leads are superb. Leung is perhaps best known to Western audiences for starring in action thrillers like John Woo’s Hard-Boiled and Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs, later remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. Here, he is much more restrained and mournful than such other roles would suggest. Leung was rewarded for his efforts with the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Maggie Cheung is, if anything, even more impressive as the perpetually introverted Mrs. Chan, so much so that when she finally breaks down in public, albeit briefly, with her back to Mrs. Suen, it is a devastating moment.
In The Mood For Love was among the most acclaimed films of the decade. It was one of only two films released in the twenty-first century to feature on Sight & Sound’s coveted Top 50 Greatest Films critics list, polling at 24. It was also chosen by respected British publication Time Out as their favourite film of the 2000s.