"So very good ... right up until the end. I hate when that happens."
Kar-wai Wong's "In the Mood for Love" is an evocative love story that collapses at the end but remains pretty well focused up to that point.The setting is Hong Kong, 1962, at a boarding house. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and her husband move in to the apartment next door to Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and his wife. Mrs. Chan is a secretary; Mr. Chow is a newspaper editor. Both of their spouses travel a lot, so they -- and we -- never see them.
(In a neat maneuver, even in the few scenes where the spouses are present, the camera never shows them. We hear their voices, but that's it.)
Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan maintain a polite friendship; nothing more than a nodding acquaintance, really. Then they realize their spouses are having an affair with each other. Mrs. Chan is devastated. She and Mr. Chow, with whom she now shares a tragic bond, role-play how the affair might have started, and how she might confront her husband about it.
The obvious turn would be for the pair to become lovers themselves. Director Kar-wai Wong doesn't go that route, exactly -- but he certainly lets it become a looming possibility. Mr. Chow wants an affair, and Mrs. Chan considers it. Her ultimate decision is where the film runs into trouble, with an ambiguous, confusing ending.
The camerawork is excellent throughout. We often come in on a conversation unsure who's talking because the lens is focused on the speaker's feet. More than a few times, we think the mystery spouses are finally being shown; after a while, we learn to be wary of jumping to conclusions.All of that's more than just a trick: It's an effective method of storytelling. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan will "become" their spouses if they have an affair themselves. The deft camerawork is merely foreshadowing the possibility.