Friday, February 22, 2008

Pantheon movie/Wong Kar Wai retrospective - IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE/FA YEUNG NIN WA

As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is one of the most beautiful and touching movies of recent years. It is quite simply a story of unconsummated love between a man, Chow, and a woman, Li-zhen, who decide to rise above the pettiness of the world that surrounds them. They first meet in the cramped apartment building that they share - surrounded by nosy neighbours and the noise and fast pace of Hong Kong in the 1960s. Tony Leung plays Chow as a weary, hard-bitten newspaper man. The emotional range he conveys and the empathy he evokes in the audience won him the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2000. Though a married man, he becomes transfixed by his glamourous new neighbour. They spend time together and the sexual tension is evident. The discovery that his wife and her husband are having an affair changes everything. At once, the tension is heightened as they play-act the roles of their spouses - indulging in dialogue they would so dearly love to be for real. And yet, they cannot now consummate their relationship because that would be as cheap as the world that surrounds them.

The story is reminiscent of BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but the resulting film couldn't be more different. The movie feels like a lament to a lost age. Wong Kar Wai delights in the fashion, interior decor and music of the 1960s. The movie is quite self-consciously retro, whereas BRIEF ENCOUNTER is delightful because it is so definitely of its time. The feeling of self-indulgence in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is heightened by the fact that Wong Kar Wai seems content to meander through his sets and linger in places he has no business being. So, Christopher Doyle's camera will gently move through corridors, into bedrooms and cramped kitchenettes. Sometimes, the action will be off screen or reflected in mirrors. The whole movie seems to live in a world where colours are brighter, movement is slower and emotions are inescapable. And that's what transforms a basically simple story into an unforgettable tragedy, making IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE a true pantheon movie.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE was released in 2000 and won Best Actor and the Technical Prize at Cannes. It is widely available on DVD, but if you ever have the chance to see it on the big screen you should definitely avail yourself of the opportunity.


  1. Matt recently bought me "In the Mood for Love", and I'm sorry, I just don't like it.

    I mean, it is a georgeous lovely looking film - and it's pretty well acted (if monotonously).

    But that's where my upbeatness would end. Watching two characters desperately want to reach out and touch each other, but not doing so through because of a series of social conventions and because of the circumstances of their relationship can only be interesting for so long, as "Lost in Translation" shows.

    The musical score is great for 20 minutes, but then it really strains. The repetitive nothing-happeningness of the film beings to grates on the nerves, and in the end you just want to shout at the protagonists "FUCK EACH OTHER FOR FUCKS SAKE" but you don't have the energy left, because you've already been bored to tears.

    Don't get me wrong, the way the film and characters are set up is great - and the way their quiet rejection and loneliness is portrayed is very moving, at first. But the film just doesn't really develop - either in theme or content. What you see in the first 30 minutes is what you get for the rest of the film, frustrated would-be lovers, interacting banally with each other and occasionally with their (invisible) cheating partners.

    Gotta say Bina007, I'm starting to think that you weigh cinematography and the art of film-making too heavily into your judgements. In the Mood for Love is a great movie to watch for a film student - just like No Country for Old Men - but both ultimately disappoint in delivering entertainment for a regular audience.


  2. Hey Nik, I totally empathise with your frustrations with In The Mood for Love. However, I am somewhat surprised that you thought my aim or indeed concern would be in recommeding films for a "regular audience". If that were the case I'd be reveiwing Norbit! I freely admit that I (and probably Matt) have a taste in film firmly at the extremes. I either like extreme trash or extreme art-films. As a hint, click the "pantheon" label and you'll find that it's stuffed with Bergman - which again you might find too abstract.

    At any rate, stunning visuals are not a sufficient condition for a good review. For instance, Wong Kar Wai's follow-up film 2046 looked equally stunning but had no substance, and I gave it a bad review accordingly.

    Peace out,