So I finally got around to watching this movie. I’ve always wanted to ever since I saw 2046, which got its hype from the fact that it starred both Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li, two of China‘s hottest international stars. But ultimately for me, it was Tony Leung’s performance that pulled the movie through. His and Wong Kar-wai’s genius for film-making.

Indeed, where else can you find an entire reel of film devoted to wisps of swirling cigarette smoke? Or of five seconds of the camera gazing at a hand splayed on the banister of a hotel stairway?

I’ve seen movies that use the camera as an effective tool to create mood or dynamism but I have never seen it used as part of the senses quite like in Wong’s movies. To Wong Kar-wai, the camera is his eye, nose, ears and hands, and by extension, ours. Imagine yourself coming upon a room for the first time and finding yourself noticing, not the room in perspective, but the details, the tiny everyday things that seem mundane and insignificant, except that they aren't. They are there; they assault the senses.


Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan move into neighboring apartments on the same day. In the beginning, their encounters are polite and formal, until a discovery about their respective spouses sparks an intimate bond. A story about the devastating ambiguity of feelings and the triumph of moral restraint.


In the Mood for Love is set in prosperous but crowded Hong Kong in the 1960s. This “crowdedness” is a dominant feature of the film and Wong emphasizes this claustrophobic quality by insisting on shots of the characters brushing against each other as they make their way through the narrow hallway connecting one cramped apartment with another. Beyond the physical, this sense of confinement is carried over to the psyche of our main characters, played to gut-wrenching perfection by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two jilted spouses who are in the mood for love but simply cannot be lovers, not physically nor mentally.

Trapped is the feeling you get when watching this film. It’s more than just the physical and visual part of it -- dark mahjong dens and rain-soaked alleys seen through camera shots taken from behind something, giving off the feeling that you are not supposed to be noticing these things. You are not supposed to be watching. All this is forbidden. And that is exactly how our characters are feeling.

In the beginning, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) try to understand their respective spouses, try to grasp what drove them to lie, cheat and eventually abandon their apparently happy marriage to indulge in an adulterous affair. They do this by replaying what must have happened, re-imagining conversations, even to the extent of ordering what each other’s spouse might have ordered at the restaurant that they supposed was where it must have started. But when it came to that moment which now defined their present circumstance, they found that they could not bear it. As Leung’s character aptly said, “What does it matter? It has already happened.”

Yet they continue to see each other, driven by some invisible bond, trapped by a common pain. Sometimes, often without warning, they would lapse into dialogue that is out-of-character and it is then that the audience realizes that they are not playing themselves now but their adulterous halves. It is as if by inflicting this surface pain they hope to numb the other pain inside.

The adulterers remain faceless throughout the movie and that is just as well because what they have is common and crass and deserves scant attention. It is the ones left behind, the damage caused, that carries the story through. One especially long-range shot that struck me is that of two people caught in a sudden downpour, standing apart from each other even as they are taking shelter under the eaves of the same house. If you have been paying attention, you will recognize immediately the blatant symbolism of that one scene. These two conflicting senses of closeness and isolation is repeated over and over in the film -- one in particular shows the camera swinging back and forth between two rooms, not necessarily to show the audience that there is only a thin wall separating the two but to emphasize that there are, in fact, two rooms.

But “feelings have a strange way of creeping up on you” and as each of our main character realizes that what begun as a gesture of self-preservation, a mutual gratification of the need to have each other as an emotional crutch, has evolved into something else, the story takes on a different tone. The change is not perceivable even as they, as well as the audience, are aware all along that they’ve been blurring the lines.

“We will not be like them,” says Mrs. Chan, a phrase spoken, perhaps thoughtlessly, in the beginning, but which has become yet another link in the unbreakable chain that binds our characters to their self-appointed roles in this ghastly play of emotional entanglements. I say “ghastly” because our characters are not pure-hearted souls. They can’t be, after all that they’ve been through and all that they’re doing. Because they can’t be lovers in the physical and mental sense, they indulge in this twisted fantasy of role-play. Are they having an affair? Are they in love? Did they sleep together? We don't really know. The camera doesn't tell you and you are left to form your own conclusions about what really happened.

Yet, despite the ambiguity of most everything about In the Mood for Love, there is one certainty in the movie -- that of moral restraint. And this is why there is no happy ending here, at least not the traditional kind we're used to. That is the whole point of the story -- that of two people trapped in their roles, in a cramped apartment, in a packed Hong Kong in the 1960s where money is easy to find and love just as unavoidable, where everything is within the grasp of one’s hand and at the same time unreachable. It must be the apotheosis of restraint to have all that opulence right before your eyes, all the justification in the world to love the wrong person, and then turn and walk away.

The film’s last scene is that of Tony Leung’s character whispering the secrets of his heart to a hole he found on an ancient stone ruin in Cambodia and then stuffing it with grass and mud as though to ensure that they stay there.

Even in this last moment, the sense of confinement remains. You see it in the shots of narrow doorways, one after the other. That is, until you remember to focus not on the narrowness of the opening but on the fact that it is, after all, still an opening and there’s light outside.


Story - 10
Sound - 7
Cinematography - 10
Picture - 10
Special Effects - 7
Acting - 10

Overall - 9/10

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Jute, perennial love team na sila! They have done a lot of movies together, the other one I coyuld remember is "Hero". Tony Leung was Broken Sword, while Maggie Cheung was Flying Snow!

I also really liked Hero but I had no idea who they were at the time. Plus, long hair man si Tony Leung didto so wa ko kaila niya. Hhhehehe

I think this movie leaves you with so much mystery, and that is the strength of this film. Here's my review: http://iwontgoback.blogspot.com/2010/01/movie-review-in-mood-for-love.html

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