In the Mood for Love
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Kam-wah Koo, Ping Lam Siu
The film was nominated for Cannes’ Palme D’or in 2000, and Tony Leung won Best Actor, the first actor from Hong Kong to do so. Roger Ebert described the film as “lush,” and The New York Times called it the “most breathtakingly gorgeous film of the year.” Innumerable best film lists slot In the Mood for Love as their top romance film or best Asian entry, and the Busan International Film Festival, in its official ranking of “The Best Asian Films of All Time,” ranked this film at number three, only behind Rashomon and Tokyo Story. In the Mood for Love’s cinematography especially inspired Sophia Coppola when she was conceiving Lost in Translation, and the film’s lush palette signaled China’s incoming color-theory wave present in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; and House of Flying Daggers. The film holds a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 95/100 on Metacritic, and an 8/10 on IMDb.
…put In the Mood for Love at its number five spot, making it the list’s top romance movie and the highest-rated film of the 21st century. As next month’s theme focuses on Black History, I figured this would be my premature Valentine’s Day post. After all, it’s romantic, so it’s perfect, right? …right?
In 1962 Hong Kong, Mr. Chow and his new wife sublet an apartment room. They happen to move in the same day as Mrs. Chan and her husband. Because of the cramped quarters, they see each other occasionally, becoming acquainted. When both of their spouses leave for a business trip at the same time, however, the two begin comparing notes, realizing that their spouses are having an affair together.
Angry and hurt, the two commiserate with each other and rue how they’ve been made to feel small. As a form of chaste revenge, they agree to help each other pursue one another’s dreams. Naturally, as they spend more time together, their affection for each other grows. Are they no better than the ones that hurt them? Or can these aspiring lovers find a way through cultural restrictions and be together?
I see why this movie’s so inspiring: The sumptuous camerawork intoxicates, the color palette evokes warm nostalgia, and the sets force-feed a factory’s worth of eye candy into the viewer’s pupils. Leung’s and Cheung’s performances add complexity to the flavor of the movie, centering the picture’s luxuriant style with sublime substance. For 90 minutes, In the Mood for Love felt like biting into the most exquisitely crafted chocolate.
…The movie is 98 minutes.
The pair are both too afraid to act. They each have their share of near misses, back and forth through South Asia over the course of the 1960’s. Ultimately, they look back fondly and longingly at their time together, wracked with regret but afraid of leaving their secure lives. Basically, this movie’s the ultimate tease.
Looking back, there were clues (the opening titles lay bare the heart of the matter), but the film had cast such a spell on me that I paid no attention to the looming conclusion. As the credits rolled, my one thought was “I really shouldn’t have made this my Valentine’s Day post…”
Don’t get me wrong; I adored this film, but it leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. Rather than celebrating romance, however, I believe it condemns those who are too weak to act. For as restrained as its characters are, this movie screams out to live your best life. Chase that dream! Ask that person out! Don’t let today go to waste! The film’s most dire message, however, is to avoid becoming a prisoner of nostalgia. These important, profound messages continue to move audiences 20 years after In the Mood for Love’s release—but they’re not what a couple wants to hear when they’re snuggled up on the couch after a fancy dinner.
So, if you’re looking for a classic movie that actually appropriate for Valentine’s Day, read my review for Sunrise.
More than an eight-hand mahjong game with your best friends. In the Mood for Love was released in 2000, the most recent year of film that I currently cover, so I can’t imagine the movie’s age being a barrier to entry. For those who have trouble with foreign films, this film has, like, four characters, and the situation’s easy to follow, so mimic this movie’s characters. Take a chance!
One thing I DID notice while streaming the movie was that the slow motion had pretty bad motion judder. Since In the Mood for Love was shot on film, you’ll want to put your TV’s picture settings on “auto” or “cinema” to reduce this effect. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the mood for migraine medication.