In the Mood for Love
Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writing Credits: Wong Kar Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung
Country: Hong Kong
Year released: 2000
Runtime: 98 min
Rating: ***½ (out of 4 stars)
In The Mood For Love is acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's latest work. Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung, In The Mood For Love (Mood) has a very simple plot, but has all the trademarks of a Wong Kar Wai movie - wonderful cinematography, meticulous attention to detail, minimal dialogue, terrific acting and superb music. All in all, Mood makes for a great cinematic experience, and is certainly one of the best Chinese films to reach Singapore screens this year.
Mood, set in 60's Hong Kong, tells the tale of Zhou Mu Wen (Tony Leung) and Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung), both married, but not to each other. Neighbours in the same building, they discover that their spouses have been unfaithful to them. Attracted to each other, Mu Wen and Li Zhen ponder the possibility of starting an extramarital affair themselves. It is a terribly simple (and some might say thin) plot, but Wong Kar Wai's films stresses on form, not substance, and Mood delivers form in ladles.
The first half of Mood starts as a series of vignettes, each not lasting longer than a few minutes. In these vignettes, the audience gets to witness bits and pieces of both Mu Wen and Li Zhen's lives, but never see them really interacting with each other. However, there is a palpable, increasing tension between the two of them, and it all comes to a head when they discover the objects of their partner's infidelities. A recurring sequence in the film is that of Li Zhen and Mu Wen brushing shoulders with each other as Li Zhen goes out to buy noodles from a roadside noodle store. Each time, we see Li Zhen in increasingly beautiful cheongsams, as though she is dolling up more for trying to "bump into" Mu Wen than to buy noodles. Yet, each time they meet, only cursory greetings are exchanged. The complexity of adult, forbidden love is succinctly portrayed in a deceptively simple sequence.
The latter half of the movie shows the two leads struggling to cope with their love with each other, whilst trying not to betray society's (and their own) moral standards. To reassure themselves, Li Zhen poses the same question to Mu Wen over and over again: "We won't be like them, will we?". There is never an answer to her question. The movie moves from one cramped environment to another, the walls always threatening to close in around them, corridors that are impossibly tight and confining, reflecting the same tight confines their lives are in. The only contrast is at the end of the movie, with an epilogue set in Angkor Wat, the wide open spaces seemingly signifying the end of an era.
The cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bin is breathtaking, and manages to titillate the senses even though a large majority of the scenes are interior shots. Bold colours are chosen for props like the curtains and Li Zhen's cheongsams, almost leaping out of the screen, and a stark contrast to the pallor of the leads' lives. Silence prevails in many scenes in Mood, and music, when present, is the same wistful tune (by Michal Galasso). Wong Kar Wai's meticulous attention to detail also helps make Mood an authentic portrayal of the 60's Hong Kong (as best to my knowledge).
Both Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are established thespians, and it certainly shows in Mood. Tony Leung, a regular in Wong Kar Wai films (Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Happy Together, Ashes of Time), plays the pensive, almost sullen Mu Wen seamlessly. Maggie Cheung is as good as ever in her portrayal as Li Zhen, with several standout scenes. One such scene sees her expression (and mood) changing from one of neutrality, to anger, to intense sadness, to silent acceptance. There are few supporting characters in Mood, but the film stands firm on solid performances of both leads.
In The Mood For Love may not have a strong plot, but augmented by Wong Kar Wai's definitive directorial style and exceedingly competent performances from the leads, it is one of the best movies this year. Although some may find it to be a rather slow-moving movie, Mood offers a truly cinematic experience that can be savoured by a large majority of audiences. A film that demands to be watched more than once.
Final Word: This is as good as Chinese cinema gets. A truly savoury offering from a bona fide world-class auteur.