In the Mood for Love
2000, PG, 97 min. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai. Starring Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Lai Chin, Rebecca Pan, Siu Ping-Lam, Chin Tsi-Ang.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 9, 2001
“Mood” is the right word to characterize this evocative Chinese love story since the two lovers at the heart of this lush period piece never verbalize or consummate their feelings. In the Mood for Love is pregnant with emotion, though rife with repressed feelings and impulses. Set in 1962 Hong Kong, Wong's film is as much about exteriors (the costume and production design by William Chang Suk-ping may be the true stars of this show) as it is about the inner realities that external presentations may cloak. The film reunites director Wong with his frequent co-stars Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung (who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his work in Mood). They play next-door neighbors, Lizhen and Chow, living in a cramped apartment building mainly occupied by members of the expatriated Shanghainese community. Each of them is married but often lonely because of their spouses' frequent business trips. It takes some time for them to realize that it's more than coincidence that takes their spouses out of town at identical times. And even then, their spouses' infidelity is only recognized through the most subtle of clues. And though Chow and Lizhen are the aggrieved spouses, they are still reluctant to act on their developing feelings for each other since that would make them no better than their cheating partners. What ultimately occurs between them, Wong leaves open to question. The film is really just a sketch of a story and its lack of a strident narrative drive may cause it to lose some viewers. In the Mood for Love may be about little more than watching Li-zhen, in her ever-changing array of form-fitted silk floral dresses, walking to the noodle shop to collect her dinner, noodle can swaying by her side. And trust me, it's an unforgettable, and oft-repeated, image. It's a movie that's tactile and moody -- and, no doubt, something of a memory piece for Wong, whose childhood belongs to this period. Also on hand is Wong's longtime collaborator, director of photography Christopher Doyle, whose striking visual compositions and illusions are a prominent part of the show. Wong's movies -- and especially the love stories (Happy Together, Chungking Express) -- are known for their minimalist storylines and a disconnection between lovers. But like all his other films, In the Mood for Love is a stylistic tour de force, one that wordlessly emotes and wears its emotions on its literal silk sleeves.