Two couples move into the same small tenement building in 1960s Hong Kong on the same day. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) is a secretary and personal assistant at a travel company, working under her adulterous boss and literally keeping his affairs in order, whilst her husband is often away on business for longs periods of time. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) is a writer whose dreams of writing martial arts serials have floundered due to lack of inspiration. His wife often works late too. When Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow begin to suspect that their respective partners are having an affair with one another, the two become close, and the chance to follow in their partner’s footsteps becomes a tentative possibility.
In the Mood for Love was nominated for me to watch by Mette Kowalski from French Toast Sunday and the Across the Universe podcast. She also nominated The Tree of Life for me to watch, and when she selected In the Mood for Love she remarked that I’d most likely “suffer through it”. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this viewing, which actually turned out to be pretty damn good.
It’s an unusual story told in an unusual manner, being about an affair, but never actually showing it – the most we experience of the catalyst to the film is hearing a four-word sentence through a closed door – and with the two protagonists spending the brief running time dancing around a romance that feels natural and inevitable, but which they both restrain against. Upon discovering their partners’ relationship the pair even role play as each others’ partners in an attempt to ascertain how the affair began in the first place, which leads to some odd and emotionally draining scenes.
The two leads are excellent, particularly Cheung, whose performance is particularly restrained, and she looks incredible in an array of beautiful dresses. Director Wong Kar-Wai clearly loves her form too, given how many shots he dedicates to her ascending stairs slowly, always shot from behind at waist height. In a Fast and/or Furious movie they would feel gratuitous, and indeed they would be, but here they add to the near-erotic feel of the film. It’s almost indulgent, but always refined. And speaking of beautiful, every shot in the film is stunning. Lighting, shadows, rain and smoke are all put to their best uses in creating an air of closeness and confinement in the tiny living quarters, with these two living in such close proximity to one another than barely a wall separates them.
Towards the end I began to lose track of what was happening within the non-relationship between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, and the drive of the plot started to unravel a little, but that ended up to be in keeping with the track the plot was going on, so whilst it headed in an unsatisfactory direction, it eventually resolved on exactly the right note the story should have.
Mette, consider yourself forgiven for nominating The Tree of Life for me. Watching In the Mood for Love more than makes up for that.
Choose Film 8/10