Review: In the Mood for Love

The film is a ravishing evocation of a unconsummated romantic relationship put through an emotional and cultural ringer.

In the Mood for Love
Photo: USA Films

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a ravishing evocation of a unconsummated romantic relationship put through an emotional and cultural ringer, a retread of sorts through Happy Together territory, this time without the kinetic patchwork of jarring film stocks that have become Wong trademarks since Chungking Express. Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) move in next-door to each other in the same apartment building. He’s a journalist who dreams of publishing martial-arts novels. She’s a secretary at a shipping company. They choose to remain loyal to their spouses, and through Wong’s glorious masterstrokes, they come to resemble butterflies caught in a rainbow-tinted industrial web. Wong’s use of the interior space is impeccable, recalling Max Ophüls’s obsession with background planes as prisons. During the woeful first half of the film, Wong emphasizes the couple’s emotional distance by refusing to frame them in the same shot during conversations. Their faceless spouses are noticeably absent from the film, both tending to their own love affairs with each other. Michael Galasso’s sweaty soundtrack complements Wong’s broad color splashes and erotic compositions. Desire is fabulously displaced into the film’s mise-en-scène. Li-zhen must descend a staircase on her way to the local market. Mo-Wan frequently passes the woman on his way up the stairs. This constant ascension and descension looks like performance art but feels like sex. Mo-Wan’s spiritual journey ends within the confines of a crumbling temple. His emotional collapse is paralleled with the political turmoil of the country. For Mo-Wan, Li-szhen’s absence seems tolerable if only because Wong allows him to experience a release of sorts. Mo-Wan caters to an ancient myth by unleashing his pent-up frustrations into a crack between an ancient stone. In the Mood For Love is ravishing beyond mortal words.

Score: 
 Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Lai Chen, Rebecca Pan  Director: Wong Kar-wai  Screenwriter: Wong Kar-wai  Distributor: USA Films  Running Time: 98 min  Rating: PG  Year: 2000  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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