Fa yeung nin wa, Hua yang nian hua
Tony Leumg Chiu-Wai
Running Time: 94 minutes
US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG
Country: France, Hong Kong, Thailand
Hong Kong 1962. Journalist Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and secretary Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk) happen to move in next door to each other on the same day in a Shanghainese-style tenement block. Both are married, but with their spouses often away for work, they keep running into each other as they purchase dinner from a nearby noodle stall, and a polite friendship develops. Drawn even closer by the realisation that their absent partners are conducting an illicit affair together, Chow and Li-Zhen share their indignation, loneliness and incomprehension – and so begins a slow, flirtatious dance, filled with missed opportunities, restrained passions and unspoken secrets.
'In the Mood for Love' is a work of rare and poetic beauty, in which every moment is like an exquisite painting. The languid poise of the leads, the immaculate period detailing of their costumes and hair, the sumptuous textures of William Chan Suk-Ping's production design, the dreamy grace of Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-Bin's cinematography – all choreographed to a soundtrack ranging from the Latin beats of Nat King Cole, through a magisterial waltz by Shigeru Umebayashi, to the plangent calm of Michael Galasso's closing piece – combine to make 'In the Mood for Love' quite simply one of the most stylish and sensual films of all time. Of course, in Hong Kong as much as in Hollywood, an excess of style can often point to a lack of content, but in Wong Kar-Wai's film, on the contrary, all the layered fabrics and plush décor are barely enough to conceal the emotions welling up just beneath the surface – even if their only release is in quiet whispers or extravagant billows of cigarette smoke. In other words, far from being an exercise in mannered emptiness, the film is a model of carefully managed restraint, where clothing, furniture, and even shadows, tell as much of the story as the characters themselves. This is a film not of grandiose actions and overblown speeches, but rather of nuanced gestures and moody silences, where less really is more.
Like Wong Kar-Wai's previous 'Days of Being Wild' (1991) and his forthcoming '2046' (2004), 'In the Mood for Love' evokes a 1960s Hong Kong that is now almost unrecognisable, and focusses on the closed community of Shanghainese exiles in which Kar-Wai spent his own childhood, but which had all but disappeared within a generation. By making this fleeting period and shifting landscape the backdrop to a series of possibilities unfulfilled and events that leave no trace beyond a buried secret and a fading memory, Kar-Wai has fashioned not just a nostalgic film, but a film about nostalgia itself. For beneath the idealised allure of 'In the Mood for Love' there shimmers a sense of aching loss, as a moment shared between two people passes and is forever gone, and even the viewers are not sure exactly what , if anything, has happened. As such it is a monument to time, memory and yearning as mysterious and ageless as the ancient Angkor Wat temples with which it ends.
A masterpiece of romantic melancholy that gets better and better each time you see it.
It's Got: A long list of superlatives (see main review), all of which combine to create three things in pure and, er, unadulterated form: style, restraint and melancholy.
It Needs: Like any classic, preferably to be seen more than once for full appreciation of its layered nuances - and committed fans of explosive action, excessive exposition or neat resolution should probably stay well away.
DVD Extras This two-disc special edition from Tartan packs its stylish (and entertainingly cryptic) animated menus (in a wide choice of European languages) with loads of extras. Disc 1 features: the film in anamorphic widescreen; scene selection; choice of Cantonese, French, Mandarin, or Spanish audio; choice of English, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian or Spanish subtitles; isolated soundtrack menus (with notes on each piece); theatrical trailer. Disc 2 features: an interview from Cannes with director Wong Kar-Wai (22min); an on-set report (18min) including behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Kar-Wai and leads Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung; exhaustive material on the soundtrack (including album sleeves and tracklists, musical analysis, bios of composers Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi, and reflections on the music by Galasso and Kar-Wai); twenty-eight minutes of deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Kar-Wai), including more erotic play in Chows hotel room, more scenes in 1963 Singapore, and a sequence where a married Chow again meets Li-Zhen by chance in the 1970s - all well worth watching, although the film is definitely the more subtle for their absence; an 8-minute alternative ending, where Chow runs into Li-Zhen at Angkor Wat before sealing his secret forever - to my mind this ending, with Li-Zhens last words to Chow being "I dont remember", is every bit as haunting as (if longer than) the ending on which Kar-Wai finally settled; bios and filmographies of Kar-Wai and actors Cheung, Leung, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chin, Siu Ping-Lam, Chin Tsi-Ang (grandmother of rotund martial arts star Sammo Hung), and cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-Bin, and production designer/chief editor William Chang Suk-Ping; full credits listings; a multi-media section giving access to wallpaper, a screensaver and website links; promo reel; a bunch of trailers and teasers; posters, concepts and design concepts; footage of Kar-Wai at various film festivals (4min); list of film awards won; short sequences showing a tailor and a hairdresser at work; recipes; stills; interactive Mah-jong game. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10
A masterpiece of romantic restraint and melancholic nostalgia which keeps the past at a stylish distance.