Wong Kar-wai’s exquisite meditation on loss and love
Set in 1960’s Hong Kong, (mis)fortune brings together Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk). Each has rented a room in neighboring communal apartments, along with their respective spouses. Over the following days and weeks, their exchanges are polite and formal. A reflection of institutional bonds and societal expectation. For Su, her husband is always away on business, typically returning with sought after handbags or rice cookers from Japan, for her to share with coworkers. Chow’s wife is similarly distant, working long late shifts as a hotel receptionist. They each reach the realization in their solitude that their partners have been conducting an affair. Coming together, they find solace in each other, and find themselves on a similar path where that comfort begins to develop into something more.
The film avoids the cliches you might expect, or the simplicity of sex and desire, in favor of a far more soulful venture. A pair of spurned spouses whose loneliness and isolation reaches new levels, before a polite friendship begins. Through shared introspection about their broken marriages, and the fascinating exchanges as they each rehearse scenarios to explore how their partner’s infidelity came to be, they tilt closer to committing the same acts that brought them asunder. Beyond comfort, it is also a process of rediscovery, as through encouragement and support, they begin to rediscover lots parts of themselves, passions long ignored. Intimate bonds come to be forged and thoughts move from the past and instead to what the future could hold. Restraint ever-present, as they look to avoid scandal and scrutiny by their friends, neighbors, and society at large.
The plot is relatively simple. Where War Kong Wai weaves his magic is in the overall mood and emotion of the piece. The film is built with a deft shorthand, moving from moment to moment as this pair begin their journey of realization, and connection. Evocative compositions and movements, voyeuristic shots, fragments of the whole, but enough to appreciate the passage of time, while leaving space for the mind to fill in the gaps. These moments of pause and quiet offer up chances to appreciate the nuanced and poignant performances from the leads. Tony Leung crafts a quiet, hesitant, and wounded man and builds him into something simmering and iconic. Maggie Chung is a stunning presence, whose regal poise belies the deep sadness within. Her figure-hugging dresses are themselves a work of art, but when coupled to her movement and mannerisms, become transcendent. We never see the estranged spouses, we are just left with the wreckage left in their wake. This delicate dance that emerges between Leung and Chung takes us from sadness, through solace, to something all the more seductive. Throughout a persistent tinge of tragedy that guarantees empathy.
The style and overall composition of the film is a cinematic benchmark, showcasing stellar production/costume design by William Suk-Ping Chang, exquisite art design, all illuminated by the exquisite cinematography of Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bing. Textured surrounds and lush colors, both bold and diffuse, frame the leads, and add tactile sensation . The atmosphere is further shaped by the mournful string heavy score by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi and a savvy soundtrack selection that most notably works the dulcet tones of Nat King Cole around the possibilities that lie in front of this pair. Quizas, quizas, quizas” (“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps”). In the Mood for Love is a feast for the eyes and ears, but more importantly is a film that serves the soul.
Sumptuous seems insufficient when describing the verdant and textured aesthetic of Wong Kar-wai’s feature. Here, in this director approved 4K scan and transfer, colors are bold and resplendent. Blacks are deep, with contrast showing depth and range. The overall film tilts into green, but the reds pop with incredible vibrancy. Detail is especially notable, showcasing the fine work that went into adorning every inch of the films sets and costumes. In the Mood for Love is a stunning film, and this 4K restoration more than does it justice. Criterion’s package features the film in UHD on one disc, and a Blu-ray version, with accompanying extra features.
- Documentary from 2001 by Wong, chronicling the making of the film: Nearly an hour in length, this documentary pulls together Wong Kar Wai and the more prominent cast members to discuss the making of the film, approaches to production, experiences on set, and more
- Hua yang de nian hua (2000), a short film by Wong: A short film assembled from some footage uncovered in a Californian warehouse
- Interview and cinema lesson from 2001 featuring Wong: The interview covers some of the problems encountered during production, character development, on set experiences. The ‘lesson’ features the filmmaker discussing his approach, notably in terms of setting the tone and rhythm of the films he makes
- Press conference from the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival with actors Maggie Cheung Man Yuk and Tony Leung Chiu Wai:
- Interview from 2012 with critic Tony Rayns about the soundtrack: The soundtrack is one of the more indelible parts of the film, so it is great to see a featurette that dives into the musical selections, and their deployment in the film
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Wong: Four in total, each around 8 or 9 minutes in length, and (thankfully) accompanied by commentary from the director. Room 246, Postcards, The Seventies, and A Last Encounter
- Music video (performance by Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Trailer
- PLUS: A new essay by novelist Charles Yu, contained in the liner leaflet, which also presents stills from the film, and information on the director approved, 4K transfer and restoration
The Bottom Line
In the Mood for Love is a profound and moving rumination on betrayal and love. Exquisite in terms of production and performance, Criterion’s 4K presentation and package, befits this masterwork from Wong Kar Wai.
Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love is available on 4K-UHD via Criterion now
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