Dir: Wong Kar-Wai. Hong Kong. 2000. 90 mins.
Prod Co: Block 2 Pictures Inc/Paradis-Orly Films. Int'l Sales: Fortissimo Film Sales. Prod/Scr: Wong Kar-Wai. DoPs: Christopher Doyle, Mark Li Ping Bing. Prod des/Ed: William Chang Suk-Ping. Mus: Michael Galasso. Main cast: Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chen, Siu Ping-Lam.
Echoing David Lean's Brief Encounter with its tale of soulmates teetering on the brink of an impossible affair, In The Mood For Love is beautifully orchestrated, supremely stylish and hypnotically executed. A must see film for followers of director Wong Kar Wai, it may be a little too delicate or mannered to significantly extend his loyal following. The print screened at Cannes lacked a final sound mix but enthusiastic reviews will ensure rock solid international arthouse returns.
Displaying a masterly command of colour, composition and music, Wong Kar Wai paints his film in ravishing reds and simple images invested with a wealth of plaintive emotion. Bursts of humid raindrops, the upward spiral of a plume of cigarette smoke or a sinuous walk down a narrow pathway combine to create a mood so heady with anticipation that the viewer could almost swoon. Thanks to cameramen Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping Bing, In The Mood For Love has to be considered one of the most gorgeous films of the year.
In the Hong Kong of 1962, two couples move into the same building on the same day. Su Li-Zhen (Cheung) is a secretary for an export firm. Her husband works for a Japanese company and can be absent on business for weeks at a time. Chow Mo-Wan (Leung) is the hard-working editor of a local daily newspaper. Coincidentally, his wife is also often away for long stretches. Diligently committed to their work, they play little part in the bustling lives of the family around them. Inevitably they are pushed into each other's company. A relationship of respectful cordiality matures into something more significant than either of them seems willing to acknowledge.
The nature of their relationship is forever altered when they realise that their respective partners have been having an affair. They meet more often to analyse the situation, torturing themselves and cementing their new bond by re-enacting the conversations that might have taken place and speculating on the fine detail and circumstances of the affair. The question then becomes whether such closeness will inevitably lead them down the same path of infidelity.
Maintaining its grip throughout a running time that seems meagre by the standards of this year's Cannes competition titles, In The Mood For Love remains intensely focused on the central duo. We never see their respective partners. Secondary characters like Chows' lecherous colleague and Su's adulterous boss are cleverly deployed to reflect their dilemma and innate sensitivity in dealing with it. Poised performances from Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung effortlessly convey the physical attraction of these people whilst hinting at the terrible pressures concealed beneath the calm, immaculate facades they present to the world.
The haunting, insistent refrain of Michael Galasso's sumptuous score and the use of smoothly seductive Nat King Cole tracks further heightens the doomed romantic mood.