In the Mood for Love

Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love is a film I love more and more each time I see it.

It is a frankly bizarre film, with suitable touches of Wong Kar Wai signature surrealism. Sometimes I simply don't know what was happening. And the whole Cambodian ending, coming completely out of left field, is really little more than a cinematic love-letter to Angkor Wat. This cavalier approach to narrative is, I think, quite common in Hong Kong cinema, and whether Wong Kar Wai does this sort of thing intentionally or merely reflexively is anyone's guess.

Maggie Cheung shines as the cheated-against Mrs. Chan. Her performance is a smouldering tribute to internalised rage, and she is just magnificent at all times. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is also wonderful as the quietly sexy, chain-smoking cuckold Mr. Chow. I just love that, even out of heels, Maggie is quite a few inches taller than Tony, but it doesn't seem to matter a bit. The chemistry between them is at all times utterly believable, as is the clumsy radnomness of their fateful affair. Both affect a sangfroid that belies an intensity of emotion and sexual frustration that is as rooted in Chinese culture as it is in the script of this particular film.

Of course, everyone constantly sings the praises of the design of this film, and Wong Kar Wai is famous for utilising the most extraordinary locations to evoke a particular sort of nostalgia for a long-gone Hong Kong. Indeed, at times Maggie Cheung is almost upstaged by her exquisite cheong-sams. Maria N. Ng, in her memoir of Hong Kong and Macau, writes that the scene in which the lovers go to eat at a Western restaurant is one of the most perfect and emblematic moments of realism in Hong Kong cinema. The films soundtrack is also a masterpiece, and has many fans all on its own.

But the film is not a piece of realism. The film's effects border on the magical, and the fact that such unusual devices are employed to tell a simple and psychologically harrowing love story is quite unique. In the Mood for Love is regularly acclaimed as one of the very best examples of Hong Kong Cinema, and I think rightly so.


FM said…
Hi Walter,

Lovely reading of the film - such a huge Wong Kar Wai film. Did you see the 'sort of' sequel 2046? I remember being wowed seeing it in the cinema, but haven't revisited it since. I wonder if it holds up.


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