Of course the title made me cringe, but I trusted Maki anyway. I probably should have, but I hadn’t heard of Wong Kar-wai before. He seems like the kind of director I should get to know better. In the Mood for Love begins with two married couples moving into neighboring apartments on the same day. Over the next months, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. So (Maggie Cheung) arrive at the common realization that their partners are engaged an illicit affair, and through this connection come to cultivate an unconventional relationship of their own.
The movie runs for a standard length of 90 minutes, but its atmosphere feels like a short film because of its subtle cinematography. With its use of spontaneous stills and unusual camera angles, In the Mood for Love presents a unique viewing experience, especially for Wong Kar-wai virgins like me. The camerawork intrigued me the most. I enjoyed its fascination with staircases, doorways, street corners—junctures that serve as meeting places for the two protagonists. Also, it continually finds new angles to shoot from, so you never even see the main characters’ spouses—a device I found poignant and telling.
Although generally very quiet and subdued, tension permeates almost all the scenes in this film, a quality enhanced by its unsettling soundtrack. Lying somewhere on the border between friendship and romance, Mr. Chow and Mrs. So’s relationship is marked by constant reenactments, which started with a seemingly innocent enough statement: “I wonder how it began.” In an attempt to understand their partners’ betrayal, they reenact scenes they deem pivotal to the affair and use this setup to rehearse their own plans for confrontation or departure. But throughout the movie, both characters exercise tremendous restraint. They resist obvious temptation not out of fear for public reprimand (though that concern remains) but because they do not want to engage in the same infidelity as their spouses: “We won’t be like them.”
According to Wikipedia the movie’s original title literally means “the age of blossoms” and refers to the Chinese metaphor for the passing time of youth. This corresponds to the film’s repeated emphasis on the end of an age. “That era has passed,” the caption states once. But this awareness only leaves the characters always looking back at those irretrievable moments in the past, forever haunted by the possibility of a different present.
‘You notice things if you pay attention.’
‘I didn’t think you’d fall in love with me.’ ‘I didn’t either.’
‘In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share…you know what they did?’ … ‘They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.’
He remembers those vanished years. 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.