A Composer’s Note

I first met Wong Kar Wai in September 1995 at the Asian Film Festival in New York. He had discovered my music on a compilation CD, Utopia Americana, and had used a piece entitled “Baroque” in Chungking Express. When I saw the film, I was very impressed with how the music was integrated into the action and editing of the film. It reminded me of how Kubrick used music in his films.

We met again in New York in October 1997 for the premiere of Happy Together at the New York Film Festival. I was beginning a project in Italy as music director of Fabrica, and as I was looking for young musicians from all over the world, I asked him to send me some classical Chinese music. In December 1999, he contacted me about doing the music for an as yet untitled film that was to become In the Mood for Love. In March 2000, I received the first rough-cut of the film and realized that it was quite different from Wong Kar Wai's previous work. Seeming to be set in the 1960's in Hong Kong, it was moody and melancholic. It had a very relaxed pace, with scenes of families and friends eating and playing mahjong. There was no violence, but a nostalgia and feeling of longing instead.

Before composing the music, I went to Bangkok to meet with the director and saw a later cut of the film. I met the actors, saw the locales up close and watched the director work. Wong Kar Wai was very clear at our meetings about what he wanted the music to sound like, the pacing, and the emotion. I suggested using a cello because it is such an evocative instrument, able to express strong emotions. Upon returning to Venice, where I live, I recorded several different versions of the “Angkor Wat Theme.” I also recorded several pieces with different themes and a very different feel. The basic elements of the music were a pizzicato by cello, violin and acoustic guitar, and then melodies played by each instrument separately, followed by the violin and cello together. After sending the first CD and DAT, the director asked for a slight rhythm change and for a drum to be added to the theme. I then recorded a very low bass drum, sounding to me like a subliminal heartbeat. This became the final version of the music used in the film.

Michael Galasso

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