In the Mood for Love

Not your average love story, this is romance Hong Kong style. During a hot humid summer in 1962, the bustling Shanghainese community provides a sensuous grungy backdrop to one of the most unusual love stories ever told by one of cinemas most interesting directors.

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), a melancholic, nostalgic movie that is more about mood than love, follows the tentative encounters between two well dressed, married office workers living in shabby surroundings. 

The story follows a young journalist (Tony Leung) and a secretary (Maggie Cheung) who both moved into rooms next to each other on the same day in a rundown apartment building. Dressed in the latest chic, while spending much of the time awaiting the return of their spouses, who are frequently away on business, they eventually come to the conclusion that their spouses may be having an affair. 

Filmed mostly in dark narrow alleyways, stairwells and claustrophobic corridors of Bangkok, during the sweltering summer heat, and using a seductive color palate of deep reds, jade greens and slick blacks, the sensual steamy imagery is mesmerizing with its contrasting textures.

Lonely and bored, the fashion conscious neighbors find themselves coming together for casual dinners and conversation as they relate the possible infidelity they each suspect is occurring. While comparing notes they recognize their spouses’ cover stories and some gift items they have in common, and soon make a surprising discovery.  

In slow motion sequences with soft latin Nat King Cole musical refrains playing in the background, there’s a sense of longing and loneliness of people dreaming of an intimate connection in a rainy nocturnal underworld. They seem to be locked in a dance of regret, suggested with subtle non-verbal body gestures and expressions.

When they realize the unfortunate connection they have in common, they try to understand how it happened by roll playing the possible circumstances that may have led to the current situation and how they will confront their spouses about their extra marital activities. 

The overwhelming experience you get while watching this film is one of total immersion into a cloistered environment. We are shown vignettes of a hidden world of tight spaces and smoke filled alleys and noddle shops where people pass each other anonymously.  

When they decide to collaborate on writing a martial-arts serial, which they both enjoy reading, and secretly rendezvous away from their gossipy landladies; they form an unexpected close bond of friendship. The platonic affair is almost like a forbidden act of pleasure in an oppressive Orwellian style environment.

In a world where infidelity seems commonplace, this couple resists the urge, stopping just short of being unfaithful. Even though they’re probably more justified than most, they are unable to bring themselves down, morally, to that level.

The pleasure of watching this film is not so much in the story but more in the visual style, the ambience, the 50s set design and decoration, the romantic soundtrack and the photogenic actors. It takes several viewings and careful observations to fully capture the subtle nuances. It’s very much an art-house film with a capital A. 



Valerie Remy-Milora said...

This sounds like a beautiful and intriguing film. Thank you for sharing it in such a beautiful way!

MK Slagel said...

Not only does there seem to be A LOT of emotion in this film, but your writing seems to have passion, respect and emotion for the film as well. I love the line "there’s a sense of longing and loneliness of people dreaming of an intimate connection in a rainy nocturnal underworld."

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

A well written review that captures the essence of the film.

Sally DeSmet said...

I love your reviews - you capture the heart and soul of the film.