Right off the bat, I’ll admit that I’m probably the wrong guy to be talking ‘In the Mood for Love’. The only other Wong Kar-Wai film I’ve seen is The Chungking Express (which I liked), but beyond that I’m clueless when it comes to Wong’s filmography. More importantly, I haven’t seen the two films that bookend the apparent trilogy ‘In the Mood for Love’ belongs to. I’m sure the film is designed to stand on its own but something tells me a pre-existing familiarity with these characters and Wong’s themes might have been helpful. In short, I’m coming into this film 12 years late and new to Wong’s work, so bear with me.
Set in 1962 (in Hong Kong), the film begins as two couples move into the same apartment complex next door to each other on the same day. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) are both married yet living seemingly single lives. Their spouses spend the majority of their time working, giving Chow and Su the opportunity for a number of chance encounters that eventually lead to their becoming acquaintances. At first it’s polite and friendly, but eventually discussion of their absent spouses confirms suspicions that their significant others are having an affair. Under the watchful eye of their nosey neighbours, Chow and Su attempt to make sense of their troubled marriages and slowly fall for each other in the process. As their feelings grow deeper, they maintain a platonic relationship in an attempt to resist their urges, opting for dignity in the face of their spouses betrayals. The result is a tranquil examination of forbidden romances clashing with repressive cultural expectations.
Even though I did ultimately enjoy the film, I can’t help but feel I’ve missed out on that ingredient that confirms Wong’s film as the modern masterpiece some claim it to be. For one reason or another, ‘In the Mood for Love’ never really affected me. I was left impatiently pacing on the periphery of a story that I found tough to penetrate. The characters are likeable but frustratingly meek. Their laggard courtship proved more frustrating than revelatory, even if it led to some interesting character moments. Perhaps it’s the lackadaisical rhythm at which the story unfolds that continually tested my level of interest. There’s a repetition of imagery — the clock, carrying the noodles, etc. — that I found monotonous. Admittedly, for somebody successfully engaged in the story this choice of repetition is thematically sound. So why wasn’t I engaged? I think a film like this requires a certain level of vicarious pleasure in order for myself to be completely lost in the story. I never really wanted Chow and Su to end up together. Some have cited Wong’s films as an inspiration for Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’, a movie which I thought explored the idea of romantic restraint via a platonic relationship in a way that was much more vibrant, engaging, and experiential. Wong’s cinematic vision of romance is a little too earnest and perhaps too precious for my liking. Still, I’m completely open to revisiting this film in due time in hopes that a second viewing will shed some light on what I’m apparently missing.
Like all of Criterion’s high definition releases, In the Mood for Love comes packaged with a plethora of bonus features in addition to the film’s 1080p high definition presentation. The picture quality is typically good, but I wouldn’t call it great. Occasionally the film looks a tad over processed which gets in the way of its natural filmic qualities. There’s a small amount of sharpening that seems to have been applied, but luckily it’s negligible. Christopher Doyle and Pin Bing Lee’s use of colour is a definite highlight. As for special features, the disc includes a documentary on the making of the film, various interviews, footage from the film’s Toronto International Film Festival press conference, and a short film by Wong. Also, the booklet features an essay by novelist and film critic Steve Erickson and ‘Intersection’, the Liu Yi-chang short story that inspired the film. Overall it’s a great package that fans of the film will certainly appreciate. — Jay C.