In The Mood For Love is Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s award-winning film from 2000 about the relationship that develops between two people whose spouses are having an affair with each other. The film stars Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Wong regular Tony Leung Chiu-wai. Leung won the award for Best Actor at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, where the film itself also took home the Technical Grand Prize.
The year is 1962 and the location is the Shanghainese area of Hong Kong. In an apartment building where people frequently rent out their extra rooms, two couples have just moved in next to each other. Mr. Chow and his wife, as well as Mrs. Chan and her husband. Both are poised, beautiful, well-dressed and lonely. It’s soon revealed that the two discover their spouses are carrying on an affair together. In fact, we never see their spouses, as they’re really not important to the story, beyond how their actions have affected both couples.
Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan at first simply go about their days at work, and then spend their evenings alone, frequently going to the neighborhood noodle shop for dinner. The two see each other only in passing at first, but eventually begin spending time together, as the only two people they feel can really understand their situation. They confide solely in each other, as their dignity and the social stigma that would come of their situation necessitate hiding it from the outside world. At first they simply want to know how this could happen, and the two begin role-playing the other’s spouse in an attempt to understand how they could have met and let this relationship develop. But over time their own relationship turns into something more, and they fear becoming like their spouses.
Wong Kar-Wai’s films are often populated by lonely people. Whether it’s because of their occupation or their personality, they inhabit settings of solitude where his camera voyeurs them in intimate but quiet moments. Their emotions are just as often conveyed by their silence and still demeanor as they are by actions or conversations. He seems to want you to connect to the characters visually first.
And the visuals for In The Mood For Love draw you in from the beginning. The leads are both a bit reserved in personality, but even in the quiet of their day-to-day life we learn the most important thing about them: they feel lonely and betrayed. They’re both married to spouses who are never there, and in that absence they are left to lead lives of pained resignation. They long and yearn, they dream of both resolution with their spouses and new love with each other. But continually, they don’t act on it, and even the fact that they can confide in each other somehow only makes the pain grow.
There’s a maturity to this film over some of the director’s previous work. It’s a technical maturity with a quiet but focused story and beautifully understated performances from the leads. And the camerawork is some of his most lush to date. But the maturity also extends to the characters. Some of his prior films dealt with younger or single people, where it felt like flirting or trysts were the film’s currency.
Here we have two people who are both a little older, have been married, and understand that love is more complicated and their actions more far-reaching than perhaps they would have understand at a younger station in life. Their attraction for each other is heartbreaking because they’ve decided to strive for it to go unfulfilled, regardless of their current pain.
Even in their abandonment, they resolve not to do to someone else what has been done to them. They understand that even if they could begin something together and have it go undetected by anyone else, it would do harm by changing them, who they are as people. Their constant reassurance to each other that “we won’t become like them” means more than that they simply shouldn’t get together.
There are many deleted scenes and abandoned paths in the supplemental section which show that at different points the story could have gone in a much different direction. Wong Kar-Wai famously doesn’t work with a script and instead builds the story during the shooting and by letting the actors create characters and where they might go.
We see those experiments on this release, as well as the wise decision to let them go unused. Instead, what we are given is a film that’s left a little more open-ended, where the plot doesn’t come to a definitive end but begins a conversation about what could become of these characters or what others might have done in their place. It’s an art film in the truest sense, because it draws in the viewer to engage with the work, and to fill in some intentional spaces, instead of dictating the one-path journey to follow.
Video / Audio
There are moments in the opening shots where it actually looks like this could have been shot in the 60s. The rich colors of the outfits and sets are sometimes slightly over-saturated, and set against the light noise from the print. Both issues aren’t ever-present, and while they could probably be “cleaned up”, I actually found them appropriate anomalies for the period of the setting. Detail is overall very good, and comes through beautifully in some of the many close-up scenes. Both Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-Bin as co-Directors of Photography (shooting at different intervals during the production, and in truth its impossible to tell who did what) deliver drop-dead gorgeous images, scene after scene. There are no artifacts or anomalies to merit a mention, and as long as you’re ok with a little noise and light over-saturation on some of the high-color shots, you’ll enjoy a beautiful high-definition transfer.
The music shines in this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The repeating motifs of the score are delivered with robust beauty, in everything from the deep, resonant plucks of the bass on up to the fragile violin solo with pizzicato strings. Even the vintage Nat ‘King’ Cole tracks come through strong and lush, instead of aged with time. Dialogue is often quiet and reserved, but the audio track overall has wonderful balance, even though it intentionally accentuates its musical moments.
Criterion deliver a truly packed Blu-ray for this release. “@ In The Mood For Love” (HD, 51:12) starts things off with a detailed look at the making of the film. Both it and the section devoted to “Deleted Scenes” (HD, 33:09) contain a multitude of alternate paths for the story, many of which would have taken the film in very different directions, and for that reason alone both items are essential viewing for fans of the film. The deleted scenes also come with optional commentary by Wong Kar-Wai, but truth be told, he is mostly quiet and really only makes a handful of comments.
“Hua Yang De Nian Hun” (HD, 2:32) is a brief short film made from vintage footage shot during the period of In The Mood For Love set to one of the songs heard in the film. Wong Kar-Wai is featured alone in two items, first giving an interview in an outdoor setting at a film festival (HD, 22:15) and then giving a “Cinema Lesson” during an interview session (HD, 15:52). Actors Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk answer questions during a lengthy Q&A session at the “Toronto International Film Festival” (HD, 43:3). It should be noted that while all of the above items are technically in HD, the quality of the video is pretty rough, and basically looks up-converted from various sources.
New to this release are two items featuring film critic Tony Rayns. “On In The Mood For Love” (HD, 23:49) is a very interesting and informative analysis of the film that also places it within the context of Wong Kar-Wai’s other work, as well as the historical setting for the film. “The Soundtrack” (HD, 8:03) also features Rayns providing some background on the music used in the film.
A collection of TV spots and trailers for the film are included (HD, 9:30). And finally the enclosed booklet contains an essay by film critic Steve Erickson, as well as the short story “Intersection” by Liu Yi-Chang, which served as in inspiration for the mood of the film.
Like much of Wong Kar-Wai’s work, In The Mood For Love is a beautifully shot and almost hypnotic reflection on love, longing and loneliness. It’s slow and introspective, but in doing so is able to illuminate the fragile space of two breaking hearts. It’s a film class on exquisite cinematography, costume and set design, as well as the power of less-is-more storytelling. Criterion have pulled out all the stops for this release, packing both its disc and booklet with relevant and meaningful extras. A beautifully moving film and highly recommended release.