To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves….

Unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded

Elle Newmark, The Book of Unholy Mischief

In The Mood for Love (2000)
Also known as
Flowery Years
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
 Hong Kong  
Running time
 98 minutes 

oh! … brief

It’s Hong Kong in 1962 and a journalist, Chow Mo-wan rents an apartment in a crowded building on the same day as a secretary for a shipping company, Su Li-Zhen. Each has a spouse but live almost in solitary and both spouses spend a lot of time away from the home working overtime or travelling for business. Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen become reluctant companions. The film follows a year in their lives.

oh! … talks film

This is a masterpiece, a work of art, a classic, and something that everyone should watch, at least once! The film itself is a visual feast!!

Wong Kar-wai has never, in my opinion, been a strong screenplay writer. Many of his films seem to be all over the place, but, I must say I did enjoy this screenplay. The plot is simple. An ordinary man and woman living in the same kind of cramped quarters, come together as companions when they both realize that their respective spouses are having an affair together. Wong Kar-wai’s narrative explores various themes – love, betrayal, loss, missed opportunities, memories, ravages of time, and loneliness. This story is eloquently moving, graceful, and shrewdly delivered – Wong Kar-wai doesn’t typically hold back and In the Mood For Love is just another example of his mastery.

Wong Kar-wai was exceptionally deliberate with the writing for this production – his scope is small, his focus is not on the cheating spouses, but, instead of on the heroes of the story – the victims. The cheating spouses are rarely seen and little to nothing is heard from them either. They exist theoretically but in the production, it’s more metaphysical than anything else. If it wasn’t for the tangible impact the audience feels they might almost not exist instead be a figment of the imagination.

I found it very clever for Wong Kar-wai to play on the ‘wrong place, wrong time’ theme, but even take it a step further to ‘wrong people, wrong place, and wrong time’. It’s a unique twist and something that Hollywood could learn a lesson or two from some 17 years after its release. Adulterous affair type of Hollywood productions that focus on the cheaters and their happy ending and rarely, if ever on the victims, the innocents caught up in the hype and bullshit of adultery. Wong Kar-wai wrote this screenplay with the intent of two innocent people crossing paths and becoming the solace for each other, but never further exploring their attraction to each other, although there could be a justification for doing exactly that. It’s almost as if Wong Kar-wai wants the audience to empathize with these two beings that cross paths and obviously fall in love but he doesn’t necessarily want the audience to identify with them. It’s interesting in modern day and age to reflect on their mutual desire, each of them, Chow-Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen, wants to sleep with the other, but they make a conscious and moral choice not to. It’s a sign of the times – the 1960’s, but it could be aptly applied to 2010s too.

I think the absolute best parts of Wong Kar-wai’s screenplay are when Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen play out scenes that they imagine their cheating spouses are doing with imaginary conversations, even to the extreme where they imagine their cheating spouses are having a good laugh at their misfortune. It’s very insightful and it was unexpected. This is the kind of screenplay I always want but rarely find, from Wong Kar-wai.

The final scene with Chow Mo-wan is poignant. Wong Kar-wai character uses an ancient myth to vent his repressed frustrations – it is believed that if you head up a mountain and find a tree you can whisper your secrets into a hollow in the tree and then cover the hollow with mud. Chow Mo-wan does something similar in the final scene – he whispers his frustrations into a crack in a crumbling temple and then covers the crack with mud. Visually

Doubling once again as director for the production, alongside screenplay writer, Wong Kar-wai’s mastery is in the details. Whether it’s the figure-hugging floral cheongsam dresses for Si Li-Zhen, or the selection of suits and ties for Chow Mo-wan, or the deep, lush film noir colour palette – reds, yellows, browns and also the blacks and heavy shadows or coiled cigarette smoke, Wong Kar-wai places emphasis on everything and provides a solid foundation for a profound and sexually charged film.

His cinematographers, Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin, capture every loving glance with their cameras, lingering like a furtive peeping-tom on intimate scenes where you could cut the air with the sexual tension. The screen is saturated with colour, light and shadow, it’s hypnotizing and luxuriant. The sliding back and forth of the camera between the two apartments and the characters either descending or ascending the staircase comes across as performance art but really feels like sex! But there is no hard-core action, instead, a quiet grace that only furthers the erotic atmosphere. Wong Kar-wai’s interpretation of ‘repression’ for this film gives a distinct impression that foreplay, (you know what that is right?) is an art that modern society has misplaced.

Christopher Doyle’s and Mark Lee Ping Bin’s camera work bring life to this production, with a delicacy, grace and tone that encouraged emotional investment from its audience. Slow, suggestive, seductive, the hypnotic appeal of whispering silk stockings, clicking high heels, the splashing of raindrops is almost overwhelming, but not quite. Under Wong Kar-wai’s direction, Christopher Doyle uses the first half of the film to emphasize the emotional and physical distance between Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen by never framing them in a shot together, their desire is strangely removed in the film’s mise-en-scene.

The production values, the wardrobe, the props, everything was perfect. It’s hard to even begin to find something to criticise. Even the music chosen was exceptional and Wong Kar-Wai used it astutely, either for effect or lyric – the most obvious being the recurring, mournful cello refrain (Yumeji’s Theme originally composed for Seijun Suzuki’s 1991 film Yumeji) or Nat King Cole’s familiar tunes (Quizas or Green Eyes). This combined with Shigeru Umebayashi’s haunting score adds to the sombre, yearning tone.

The amazing performances of Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung were the finishing touch to this tale of unrequited love. The chemistry between the two is always lying just beneath the surface of their words and actions, but never overly powerful.

Tony Leung wore this browbeaten expression from start to finish and I got the distinct sense from his performance that his character, Chow Mo-wan was more than a little crushed by his wife’s infidelity. He emoted well and when he smiled, my heart broke just a little. Apparently, though, he found working with Wong Kar-wai on this film to be quite frustrating, saying in an interview, “Working with him now is more and more frustrating. He should go faster next time and not just change every day. I’d come on the set one day, and my character was getting revenge. I’d come another day, and my character was not getting revenge.” Whatever the case may be, Tony Leung delivered a stellar performance and I enjoyed watching him.

Maggie Cheung who played Su Li-Zhen gave a quietly understated performance while maintaining the ‘mesmerizing factor’. She looked absolutely gorgeous in all her impeccable wardrobe and was superbly graceful, reminiscent of romantic 1960s Hong Kong. Like Tony Leung, she too was increasingly frustrated with director Wong Kar-wai, saying, “Finding my character was the most difficult time, I was confused and frustrated. I thought I was doing something right and then Wong would say we’ll do it all different. I hadn’t been with him for a long time, not really ten years. I forgot that he works with the actors forever to develop characters – we all have to write the film together.”

oh! … sidekicks

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung were supported by actors and actresses that gave solid performances – special mention to Rebecca Pan who played Mrs Suen, the nosy landlady and Lai Chen who played Mr Ho, Su Lai-Zhen’s boss.

oh! … that’s a wrap

This is a wonderful film, from the screenplay, through cinematography, wardrobe, music and performances. If you don’t watch this, you will never know what mastery Wong Kar-wai is capable of, as both screenplay writer and director, he sets a very high standard for romantic films. You’ll enjoy this if unrequited love is your ‘thing’.

I will be adding this to my growing collection and will watch it again in the future.

oh! … tidbits

There were many awards ceremonies that In the Mood For Love won at, including:

The 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Tony Leung Chiu-wan won the  Best Actor award.

The 2001 Hong Kong Film Awards Tony Leung Chiu-wai won the Best Actor award, Maggie Cheung won the Best Actress award, William Chang) won the Best Art Direction, Best Costume and Make-up Design and the Best Film Editing awards.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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