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In The Mood For Love

cast: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Rebecca Pan, and Lai Chin

director: Wong Kar-wai

94 minutes (PG) 2000
Tartan DVD Region '0' retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Michael Brooke
When In The Mood For Love (aka: Huayang Nianhua) was in production, its marathon shooting schedule (stretching to well over a year) drew comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, and predictions that something was seriously wrong with a film that was supposed to be a low-key, throwaway item quickly dashed off between the more substantial Happy Together and the forthcoming sci-fi film 2046 (which gets a brief namecheck here in the choice of a hotel room's number). The prophets of doom were further encouraged by the fact that Wong Kar-wai was re-shooting the ending mere weeks before its world premiere at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival - all of which suggested some compromised, last-minute, broken-backed failure, the inevitable casualty of a working method that eschews a written script or any real idea where the film is going from the start.
   Miraculously, though, there is no sign of any of this in the film itself, a near-flawless jewel that blends immaculate performances (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, both among the most physically gorgeous actors currently working), ravishing visuals that infuse even the most mundane object with a weirdly erotic aura, and a story that's almost idiotically simple on the surface yet which has countless subtle undercurrents that make it one of the most rewarding repeat viewing experiences in living memory. Apparently the first cut was rather more explicitly plot-driven, but editor William Chang prevailed upon Wong to pare the narrative to the bone.
   As a result, it's very hard to describe the story in any detail without giving away massive spoilers, since you'd probably have ample space left over on the back of a postage stamp. Essentially, though, it's about Mr Chow and Mrs Chan, both married, each living as lodgers in tiny flats next door to each other. In this crowded, cramped environment, they can't help but notice each other, but it's only when they discover that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other that they have a reason to communicate.
   Every single thing about In The Mood For Love is well, the title says it all, and seldom has one been more perfectly chosen. The colours, clothes and décor ache with longing and even the most fleeting gesture by the two leads betrays an encyclopaedia of emotional information about how they feel for each other, but are too constrained both by their own inhibitions, their desire "not to be like them" (i.e. their partners) and their worry about how everyone else will react to do anything about it. Brief Encounter has been cited countless times, and it's a perfect comparison - 1962 Hong Kong isn't so different from 1945 Britain as far as the need to keep up appearances goes.
   And just when you wonder whether the film's ever going to amount to more than just a hesitant series of inconclusive encounters, the film's second theme emerges, that of the fragility of memory and how entire worlds vanish with the passage of time. A coda set amongst the ruined temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia seems to have baffled many, but I think it fits perfectly, by setting one person's memories of what might have been with the ruins of an ancient civilisation gone the same way. But one can analyse and re-analyse this till the cows come home - because what's so wonderful about this uniquely subtle, suggestive, delicate and fragile film is that it opens itself up to so many interpretations yet constantly eludes definitive ones. It's a masterpiece - and establishes beyond any doubt that Wong Kar-wai ranks among the most exciting and thrillingly original directors currently working anywhere.
   DVD extras: original theatrical trailer, star and director filmographies, gallery of stills, films reviews, and scene access.

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