In the Mood For Love lures American audiences to Asian films.
The world moves on a woman s hips, David Byrne sang with the Talking Heads, and so it is with director Wong Kar-wai s In the Mood For Love, which finds its central image in the delicate sway of actress Maggie Cheung s gait. In this laser-focused chamber piece, the image is appreciated for its pure formal beauty, but it s also a central image of longing in a film predicated more on ineffable desires than on direct actions.
Over the last decade, Kar-wai has emerged as one of the most exciting and most exalted filmmakers in the world, but In the Mood For Love will be the director s first film to grace a Memphis screen. Filmgoers who wish to see more global cinema shown locally should turn out in droves to assure that it won t be the last.
In the Mood For Love is a radically different film from the three great works that have earned Kar-wai his reputation in the U.S. the chaotic companion pieces Chungking Express and Fallen Angels and the farewell to Hong Kong colonial rule, Happy Together. In form it would seem to be the most accessible of his works, but with its slower pace and lack of giddy humor or action, it is probably a less likely candidate to find a major audience than his previous films.
For most film buffs familiar with Kar-wai, those three prior films embody the last decade s most definitive film style a universe of fluid, handheld camera; quick editing; loud pop music; and young, quirky characters who form a frenetically romantic New Wave vision of modern urban life. In the Mood For Love is as mannered and in its own way every bit as rapturous as those films, but it is marked by a different visual strategy. A period piece, In the Mood For Love recreates the Hong Kong of Kar-wai s early-Sixties childhood with a largely stationary camera, slow tracking shots, and deliberate editing. Though much of the film was improvised (as is standard with Kar-wai), it feels painstakingly designed, whereas films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels feel completely off-the-cuff.
In the Mood For Love centers on Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chen (Cheung), who, along with their spouses, rent adjacent rooms in a crowded apartment building. The film s central location is the building s narrow hallway and staircase, in which Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chen are constantly meeting and, through decorum or simple shyness, taking great pains to avoid physical contact.
Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chen gradually figure out that their spouses (heard but never seen on screen) are having an affair. This draws the pair together in a romantically sublimated union, where they act out how their spouses may have begun their affair and rehearse confrontations that may never actually happen. Their relationship grows close but remains mostly unrequited and, as far as we know, unconsummated. The two protagonists hardly even touch, so the slightest mingling of fingers or clasp of hand to wrist break the tension with unbearable force.
The film s ending is a putting-things-in-perspective stylistic departure similar to the one Kar-wai deployed in Happy Together. It s a finale that s almost too mysterious and lovely, a bit of solemn, hushed closure that may throw off some viewers but it is no less monumental than this film deserves.
Kar-wai is the most fetishizing and romantic major director on the planet, and this minimalist film is where he winnows his obsessions down to their essence resulting in a tense pas de deux around the kind of unrepresentable desires all his films are infused with.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which I adored exposed a lot of people to the gloriously fertile world of modern Asian cinema. With In the Mood For Love those same viewers will have a chance to sample a different kind of Asian film, one that may be less crowd-pleasing but no less moving or vital. Chris Herrington