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Set in Hong Kong, 1962, Chow Mo-Wan is a newspaper editor who moves into a new building with his wife. At the same time, Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary and her executive husband also move in to the crowded building. With their spouses often away, Chow and Li-zhen spend most of their time together as friends. They have everything in common from noodle shops to martial arts. Soon, they are shocked to discover that their spouses are having an affair. Hurt and angry, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful mates. Written by
Two people living in the same flat complex find their partners are having an affair with each other. As they try and piece together how it happened, they also embark on an emotional journey that aches for a resolution
Building on his previous success with Happy Together and Chungking Express, Wong Kar Wai gives us this rather old fashioned and marvellous story of reawakened passions, yearning and unrequited love.
Possibly, In the Mood for Love is not to everyone's taste. It wanders in rather lazily at 98mins: not particularly long for a film, but it appears longer because not a lot really happens. But this lazy feel conceals a quite tightly constructed film. Most of the story is cunningly woven around a series of set piece role plays, where the characters act out presumed scenarios between their respective spouses, trying to work out how the affair started. I say cunning because, of course, this makes it difficult for the audience (and the characters) to tell what is "in-role" and what is genuine.
If all this sounds rather arty and self-conscience, that's because it is. Unashamedly so. And it is played to perfection by two of Hong Kong's finest, Maggie Cheung and Leung Chui Wai, with some excellent support from Ping Lam Siu and Rebecca Pan.
It is also a virtuoso performance by Wong Kar Wai, who treats the audience to a sensory, and sensual, overload. Bringing together Christopher Doyle (who later deployed his lush, over-ripe style on Hero) and Pin Bing Lee (whose beautifully understated style can be seen on Springtime in a Small Town) was cinematographic genius. It has all the bold beauty of Doyle, without, frankly, the Athena-poster cheesiness of his work on Hero. The music, as always with Wong, is prominent. From Nat King Cole singing in Spanish, to the haunting strings of the main theme, it perfectly matches the eclectic beauty of the images.
All in all a top film, whether judged on plot, acting, cinematography or soundtrack. Similar to, but more accessible than, Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, this is a beautiful, old fashioned story about love lost and regained.
And watch out for Tony Leung's hotel room 2046, which presaged Wong's recent film of the same name.
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