Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love is essentially one of the most restrained love stories ever put to film. The plot is fairly simple – two neighbors, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chana, meet and spend time together while their spouses have an affair – but it’s that simplicity that helps the film work so well. There’s a yearning that’s strong and palpable. It’s ridiculously exquisite and as smooth as a fine wine. The film is one that ought not to be missed. If you’ve not seen it before, I urge you to correct that as soon as you possibly can.
For some, the film may feel lazy as it wanders and meanders towards its end. But within this hazy feeling, there’s a tightly constructed film, one in which not one second of film feels wasted. There’s nothing here that feels extraneous and it’s so incredibly easy to slip away into 1960s Hong Kong. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung performances as Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are pitch-perfect and nuanced, restrained and yet expansive. These characters are two hurt, lonely people, grasping for understanding, companionship and compassion.
The audience never sees the faces of their cheating spouses – all we get are their voices and backs . Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan come, in a sense, to stand in for their spouses, the intimacy of their relationship mirroring the affair that brought them together. They are, themselves, aware of this – they play a game in which they pretend to be their spouses, acting out what they think happened between the two. At first, it’s not clear to the audience precisely what they’re doing – when Mrs. Chan asks Mr. Chow if he has a mistress and he responds in the affirmative, her anger and sadness is palpable and you feel as shocked as she does. It turns out they they are just playing pretend, trying to parse out how their spouses started their affair. It never escapes the audience’s notice, however, that it does feel as though Mr. Chan is his mistress. The relationship and love that grow between the two furthers this affect; one that’s all the more heartbreaking when they deny themselves what they have come to want.
Additionally, In the Mood for Love is an extraordinarily beautiful film; breathtaking in its scope. The cinematography is lush and the color palette is vibrant and full of life, hope and energy, which is in direct contrast to the characters themselves. Also, slow motion, which I find to very often be the scourge of film, is used to great effect in In the Mood for Love. The effect renders the character’s motions as heavy and with meaning, even when doing something a simple as walking down a street or staring out a window. The moments feel weighty, though they aren’t framed as such by the narrative. These are the everyday routines and pieces of these character’s life s and significant in ways one typically would not consider them to be. But of course, lives are made of these small, insignificant moments, and In The Mood for Love captures that brilliantly. It feels as though the characters are drifting through their lives, which, of course, they are. And the films narrow hallways and intimate settings are the perfect visual stand in for the narrative’s secrets and the usage of mirrors and reflective surfaces reflect each character’s loneliness to the audience and back to themselves.
This will not be a film everyone will enjoy, but it ought to be a film that everyone should watch. I genuinely feel that In the Mood for Love should be required viewing. It’s not just a film; it’s an experience. It’s one I hope everyone will enjoy, but if not enjoy, then at least appreciate. If you get a chance to see this film – preferably, on the big screen, if you can – don’t miss it. It’s a feast for the eyes, the mind and heart.