Naika Reviews “In The Mood for Love”

Maggie Cheung (L) & Tony Leung (R) in Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000).

There’s no other way for me to open up the New Year (aside from moping about football and women) than to discuss film, and as of yesterday, I was completely enthralled by what some individuals consider to be a gem of a film, and that film is Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love (we’ll abbreviate it as ITMFL from this point on).  Atmospheric, elegant, dark and often times subdued, ITMFL is something that deserves to be seen by anyone who considers themselves to be a lover of film.

While already high on my kick of only two of Wong’s films, the dreamy Chungking Express and the ever-wondrous Fallen Angels,  I was determined to see out all of what I didn’t get to finish on my initial viewing of ITMFL years ago on the IFC channel, and it was well worth it.  Set in 1960s Hong Kong, ITMFL tells the story of two neighbors, Chow Mo-wan (played with ease by Tony Leung) & Su Li-zhen (played by the ever-gorgeous Maggie Cheung, who, by the way, is miles apart from the ditz I saw in Police Story), who slowly realize that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other.  From there, the two of them gradually begin to form a friendship consisting of Su rehearsing her reactions to her husband’s infidelity with Chow, strolls in the streets and pairing up to write martial arts serials in newspapers, all the while promising to each other that neither one would indulge in the infidelities that their partners have.

While it may seem to be a simple idea of a love story to some, the beauty of this film lies in its execution, which is where Wong’s work really shines.  The use of repetition and slow moving shots gives the viewer a sense of how time passes between our two would-be lovers, who both give subtle and nuanced performances of characters who yearn for love without compromising their ideals.  Special attention has to be paid to Maggie Cheung, whose every expression and gesture, from the flash of her eyes to the movement of her body as she strolls with a new, vibrant cheongsam, is more evocative than any line of dialogue.  Tony Leung impresses as always with a debonair yet tortured demeanor as he portrays a journalist who edges closer and closer to the woman he grows to love, all the while trying his hardest to bury it.  In addition, the film’s score lends itself to the drama as “Yumeji’s Theme” gravitates our two characters closer and closer to each other in slow grace.  Couple all of this with some amazing cinematography from Christopher Doyle & Lee Pin Bing and what you have here is a certified masterpiece.

Nuanced and subdued, ITMFL is Wong Kar Wai’s love letter to the lovelorn, an ode where every glance and gesture between our two protagonists is a window into their intentions and desires.  With a breathtaking balance of both art and drama, ITMFL is a lurid study of loneliness and longing, illustrating the notion that in some cases, the silence and space shared between two people can create a bond that is tighter than what any ring or vow could create.

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