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6 reviews, 18 user ratings

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In the Mood for Love
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by Jay Seaver

"In the mood for a great, romantic movie?"
5 stars

We've all heard it said that love hurts. I think it's fair to say, though, that it has seldom hurt quite so exquisitely as it does in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love.

Hong Kong, the early 1960s. Two young couples rent spare bedrooms in neighboring apartments, creating confusion when they move in on the same day. Well, when half of them move in. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) is on his own, as his wife is staying with family; Su Li-zhen Chan (Maggie Cheung) must do without her husband, who is on a business trip. These circumstances will repeat often, and the two become friendly acquaintances as they pass in the halls. Eventually, they will individually come to suspect their spouses of being unfaithful. By the time they work out that Mrs. Chow and Mr. Chan are having an affair with each other, they have formed their own connection.

In another culture, and another time, this would be fodder for a romantic comedy, or perhaps a Sirk-like melodrama. But this is China in the 1960s, and the two are living under other peoples' roofs. A single glance that says too much their landlords could put them on the street with their reputation in tatters. Li-zhen must hide in the Chows' bedroom overnight because the neighbors are engaged in a mah-jongg marathon in the living room, and tongues would surely wag even though the visit was rather innocent. Or perhaps they worry too much. The two work as a reporter and secretary, and both have employers who don't take their marriage vows too seriously; part of Su Li-zhen's job description appears to be helping her employer juggle his wife and mistress.

Perhaps the fatal flaw in their characters isn't that they find themselves attracted to each other, but that they respect their marriage vows too much to act on their attraction. Wong makes a specific choice to not let us get to know their spouses; the most we ever see of them is a figure seen in silhouette, or a back reflected in a mirror. Their voices as they speak in this scene are oddly passionless; it seems unfair that this affair, which fuels the main plot and causes the protagonists such consternation, doesn't seem to create much heat, or shame, or even feelings of superiority to their hopelessly bourgeois spouses. Seeing these two and their affair as simple abstracts makes watching Mo-wan and Li-zhen dance around each other even more painful, of course - it means that all that's keeping them apart is mere propriety.

Of course, the thread being so thin is what makes Tony Leung's and Maggie Cheung's performances so great. Every moment either character is on screen, he or she is hiding something, whether it be where his or her spouse truly is or what they truly feel about each other. It's a fine line, as the audience must see that they're not telling the whole truth, but the other characters cannot see them as guilty, and Cheung and Leung manage it nearly flawlessly. It's tempting to say that Leung gives the better performance because we see the conflict on his face more, but that's part of the characterization - Su Li-zhen puts up the better front, which hurts Chow more, as it can lead him to doubt that his love is reciprocated.

Wong Kar-Wai's films aren't heavily scripted, which is kind of ironic, as one of the film's central metaphors is the two characters writing a martial arts novel together (the again, one could look at it and say it shows how creating a story is a collaboration). It does encapsulate their relationship perfectly, though - they sit on opposite sides of their rented apartment, and they conceive this thing, though not physically, of course.

If the film has any flaw, it's the ending, as Wong seems to have trouble coming up with a way to finish it. There's a "five years later" coda, which isn't terribly satisfying. It's no wonder he would later revisit Tony Leung's character in 2046, even if it seems to at least partially contradict the end of this movie.

The look of the film is familiar, especially after a solid week and a half of seeing little but Wong Kar-Wai movies (this was the last show in a rep series of Wong's films, the same week Eros came out, and a week after watching 2046). It's set in the same period as Days of Being Wild, 2046 and "The Hand", and Wong and Christopher Doyle shoot it in the same style - dimmed lights, wetted streets, ubiquitous curved mirrors framing shots, a sort of golden-green glow. Leung is dressed in sleek black suits, while Cheung simply leaps off the screen wrapped in tight, bright dresses with her hair up. It's a beautiful, stylish movie.

You can sum In the Mood for Love up in few words - and I don't know that it winds up being more than "a man and a woman struggle with their own attraction after finding out their spouses are having an affair". It does that so well, though, that it becomes one of the most romantic movies you will ever see.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4905&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/20/05 22:27:59
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User Comments

3/26/11 makmexico Truly a great work of art. 5 stars
10/19/06 William Goss Soap opera almost too slow, subtle for its own good. Well-acted & pretty, but not perfect. 3 stars
2/01/06 Reklc "He who desires but acts not...", said Blake, that's what this movie is about. 5 stars
1/04/06 Noami Absolutely hypnotic film. I am speechless. 5 stars
12/28/05 rk The tension of the unconsummated love in this movie makes it an exquisite spectacle. 5 stars
12/11/05 K. Sear A lot looser than I would prefer but captivating in it's own way. 4 stars
11/28/03 john a bi long winded at times but beautiful nontheless 4 stars
12/31/02 Andy Todes greatest film of all time 5 stars
9/18/02 The Bomb 69 hard to explain, very slow to develop but haunting when it does 4 stars
1/15/02 Robert Excellent film...story told through scenes and expressions, not dialogue-heavy 5 stars
6/06/01 Rico sweet,stylish,nostalgic.Reminds me of mom&dad during 50s/60s. Beautiful. 5 stars
3/26/01 nowak Moody, slow, stylish, claustrophobic 4 stars
3/23/01 stu55y Absolute must-see 4 stars
3/16/01 Spetters Very subtle, very beautiful in all facets, but also quite frustrating. 4 stars
3/06/01 Peanut I am in the mood for a blowjob right now. Oh, Deanna where are you? 1 stars
2/28/01 Deniz Selman best film I've seen in at least the last 2 years...perfectly shot, perfectly executed. 5 stars
2/08/01 Heather Beautiful, stylish, intriguing movie about a couple having a affair 5 stars
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  16-Feb-2001 (PG)


  29-Mar-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Wong Kar-Wai

Written by
  Wong Kar-Wai

  Maggie Cheung
  Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
  Lai Chen
  Rebecca Pan
  Siu Ping-Lam
  Faye Wong

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