Watching Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is akin to performing a meditation. It’s a profoundly moving film that has managed to struck so many chords inside me. I have to admit I did not fully love this film on initial viewing. This was the first Kar-Wai film that I saw and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate his unique style of filmmaking. But years later, I happened to notice its name in the listings of a film festival that was about to be organized in the city I was living in at the time and for some reason, I felt like watching it again. Considering the fact that I was seeing on the big screen and going in with a much clearer and open mind, I was surprised to find myself really liking it. No, loving it! It made a strong impact on me this time around. It completely blew me away. It was unlike anything I had seen before.
The film follows the lives of two primary characters who move into an apartment building on the same day. The setting is 1962, Hong Kong. Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) is a writer and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) is a secretary at a shipping company. They learn that they are to be neighbors. Despite the fact that they are married and live next to neighbors who frequently get together for a friendly game of mahjong, they find themselves leading a lonely existence. They often dine alone and while making their solo trips to the noodle stall down the street, they cross paths with each other. Gradually, a friendship develops between the two and they get to talking. They find out that both of them share a suspicion of their respective spouses’ infidelity and finally come to the conclusion that they are having an affair with each other. Su starts to take an interest in the martial arts serials he’s been working on and agrees to help him finish them. To avoid the prying eyes of their neighbors, Chow rents a room at a hotel nearby so that they can both work together without any hindrance. Even though they develop strong feelings for each other, their relationship is platonic as they don’t wish to follow a similar relationship as that of their spouses’. They are respectful of each other’s principles .
The film can be a called a quasi-sequel to Kar-wai’s 1990 film, Days of Being Wild, as both Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung had previously played their respective characters in that film, albeit in a smaller capacity and they did not share any scenes together. The story of Days of Being Wild was set in 1960, two years before Chow and Su would finally meet face-to-face. Maggie Leung’s character Su was the first girlfriend of Yuddy, the protagonist of that film. And Tony Leung’s character Chow appeared in it as a gambler. So, both films are connected in some way even though they have distinct story-lines that stand on their own. So one is not required to watch DoBW before watching this one.
What I loved most about this film is that the dialogues are kept to a minimum and are used only when they are really necessary. Kar-wai relies mostly on visuals and music to narrate the story. I guess you can say that the visuals and music speaks for the characters. The love between the two characters is unresolved. I belong to the camp that prefers happy endings for romantic stories but with this one, I made an exception. The film wouldn’t work if Kar-wai went with a happy ending. First of all, what he did with their love story is simply brilliant. I mean, this was the first love story I’ve seen where the lead characters’ don’t indulge in a platonic relationship despite getting so comfortably close to each other. What’s that expression? “So near and yet so far”. Don’t you think it fits here?
One of the most striking aspects of the film is it’s visual design and musical choices. The film is a visual poetry in motion. Every single scene deserve to be captured and framed on your wall. Christopher Doyle’s spellbinding cinematography is a truly wonderful sight to behold. At times, it evokes the works of Scottish painter Jack Vettriano. This is a gorgeous-looking film with two gorgeous-looking leads. The colors Kar-wai chose here are so rich and vibrant that they jump off the screen. And speaking of music, I was glad to see three songs of Nat King Cole featured in the film. One of my favorite scenes is when Chow and Su are dining and indulging in quiet conversation at a classy restaurant while Cole’s “Aquellos ojos verdes” plays in the background. Also, Cole’s rendition of the Spanish classic “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” is used repeatedly in the film. Overall, it’s an elegant film that marked a highpoint in Kar-wai’s career. It’s a film I hold very close to my heart.