In the Mood for Love /
September 30, 2000
Just Next-Door Neighbors Till Love Breaches Walls
By ELVIS MITCHELL
It is a restless moment. Hong Kong 1962, reads a title card at the beginning of "In the Mood for
Love", and a restiveness that's almost voluptuous like that first blush of love when you can barely concentrate on anything else and the world seems new
and strange fills the movie. "Mood" is a great word, because a lot of the movie is mood. The principals are caught as the camera peers at them
through the edges of doorways. Its writer and director, Wong Kar-wei, is one of that gifted new breed of moviemakers who think through the lens, and he uses
that talent to give the film a heated, rapturous quality; the camera floats along, sneaking a look at the performers out of the corner of its eye. Narrative
has rarely been a motivating factor for him; instead his heart spills out onto the screen.
Mr. Wong is infatuated with the headiness of pop and he's brilliant at using it, as with the Nat King Cole songs that play repeatedly
throughout. Cole's pearly enunciation reflects the refinement of the stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They play a couple married to other people who are
renting rooms in apartments right next door, and they eventually discover that their spouses are having affairs with each other.
The journalist Chow Mowan (Mr. Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Ms. Cheung) come to lean on each other, and that need is suffused
with desire, which they're unsure how to act upon. They're the characters who are usually the victims in a James M. Cain story.
Mr. Wong used the
title of a Rolling Stones song, "As Tears Go By," for one of his pictures, a confused but powerful action film about loyalty, and it would fit as the name of
any of them. It would certainly lend itself to "Mood," which is a film about confusion over loyalties. Nat King Cole could be all surface, and Mr. Wong
angles the singer's glossiness against the want of the couple, who constantly stare at each other through glazed, hurting eyes; he plunges beneath those
surfaces, and it's gripping. This may be one of the swooniest movies ever made about love, and it luxuriates in its tailspin.
"In the Mood for Love" is
probably the most breathtakingly gorgeous film of the year, dizzy with a nose-against-the-glass romantic spirit that has been missing from the cinema
forever, a spirit found in F. Scott Fitzgerald, the best Roxy Music and minor-key romantic movies like the forgettable 1956 "Miracle in the Rain," where
the lovers' suffering is sealed because of the chasteness of the era. Sex scenes couldn't be spelled out, and as in Mr. Wong's film, yearning becomes the epoxy
that holds the
The pining here is so graceful that you may be transfixed by it. Instead of explicit physical tangles Mr. Wong
eroticizes each movement of his camera, something not many others could do because no one can cut within a camera move the way he does. "Mood" fits the
tradition of audacity at the New York Film Festival, where "Last Tango in Paris" once changed movies forever. This film goes so far in the other direction
that there's a fetishistic fixation on clothes; the beautiful floral-patterned silk dresses worn by Ms. Cheung have a sexual charge.
It is said that Mr.
Wong shot a sex scene and decided not to use it. It's a great instinct; this is a love story whose intensity comes from the fact that the skin stays covered
most of the time. Ms. Cheung wears dresses with slightly exaggerated shoulders, trim-waisted and cowl-necked, to accentuate her own flutelike neck. Mr. Leung
wears a charcoal silk shantung suit with a selection of ties to make it look different each time.
The camera is perched like a voyeur, snatching
glimpses from doorways and corners, gazing lovingly at this couple who are stranded in unhappy marriages. Allusive and bittersweet, the film uses
characters to advance metaphor in the picture- puzzle manner that Michael Ondaatje used in the novel "The English Patient"; you may not be sure if it's
about people or pop or filmmaking. It's actually fascinated with all these things, the product of a director who works primarily on instinct.
That instinct is most poignant and
evident in a scene where the movie seems to be getting at the truth. Ms. Cheung tells Mr. Leung she knows he has a lover and weakly flings a slap at his cheek.
No, he admonishes her, that's not how it's done. But we realize that something entirely different is going on, and the
misery goes even deeper because this scene is also about their eventual parting.
Mr. Wong uses the song's title to set his pace it's
not heard in the film and he looks at these characters through the heart-addled haze of pop songs. "That era has passed. Nothing that belongs to it
exists anymore," reads a title at the end. This film is a sweet kiss blown to a time long since over, a time that may have existed only in the movies, with
ballads recorded in mono while hand- sewn clothing lay perfectly over the bodies of the stars. "In the Mood for Love" is just that.
IN THE MOOD FOR
Written, produced and directed by Wong Kar- wei; in Cantonese and Shanghainese, with English subtitles; directors of photography, Christopher
Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bin; edited by William Chang
Suk-ping; music by Mike Galasso and Umebayashi Shigeru; production designer, Mr. Chang Suk-ping;
released by USA Films. Running time: 97 minutes. This film is not rated. Shown with a 7- minute short, Oliver Krimpas's "Walking Home," tomorrow at 9:30 p.m.
and Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Alice Tully Hall as part of the 38th New York Film Festival.
WITH: Lai Chin (Mr. Ho), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Tony Leung
(Chow Mo-wan), Rebecca Pan (Mrs. Suen), Siu Ping-lam (Ah Ping) and Chin Tsi-ang (The Amah).