Friday, February 8, 2013


In The Mood For Love is one of the sexiest and most romantic films in existence without a single sex scene, kiss or shot of nudity whatsoever. And with the exception of the adult issues & themes (depression, hints of sex & sensuality, infidelity, etc) there's no vulgarity at all when there could have easily been. Its like G-rated for adults. This film defines director Wong Kar Wai to a tee - coolness, moody & colorful with plenty of slow-mo shots. By the time this film was made Wong Kar Wai had already found his style. At the start of his career he was very much influenced by Scorsese as were quite a few Chinese directors in the 80's & 90's which I find interesting because Scorsese ended up remaking a film (Internal Affairs) that was somewhat of an homage to his style of filmmaking, causing him to remake a film that was originally made to emulate his own style.

Wong Kar Wai has came a long way since As Tears Go By (his first feature) which did contain some of his signature elements as a filmmaker but at the end of the day was kind of a melodramatic Chinese reworking of Mean Streets. In The Mood For Love was just his way of rubbing in the fact that he had found his style and he wanted the world to know how awesome he was. We all know there's a million movies out there that are pretty to look at (like In The mood For Love) but don’t really bring anything else to the table. In The Mood For Love is pretty much the total package (not to sound so cliché, but it is). What this film has that others with a similar plot or approach don’t is richness, beauty and the kind of leading performance given by Tony Leung (who went on to win best actor at Cannes) that really cant be found anywhere else these days. Sometimes you get so caught up in looking at this film for its beauty that you forget there's also a great story (and soundtrack) that goes along with the pretty moving images.

On a side note, In The Mood For Love was in the top tier of those prominent east Asian films that surfaced at the beginning of the last decade (Battle Royale/Japan, Audition/Japan, Yi Yi/Taiwan, etc). Wong Kar Wai's influence on new filmmakers like Xavier Dolan (specifically Heartbeats) is pretty evident while modern Japanese cinema continues to influence American cinema through remakes and other recent popular movies (I know Hunger Games was a book first but if you think Battle Royal didn't influence the movie you're crazy)
 Maggie Cheung in Days Of Being Wild (1991)
Tony Leung in Days Of Being Wild (1991)
In The Mood For Love is a loose sequel to Days Of Being Wild. Making a sequel/loose connection to a popular film in the art house world is like shooting yourself in the foot (with the exception of Truffaut's Antoine Doniel saga). The second film rarely turns out good. Just ask Hal Hartley (Henry Fool/Fay Grim), Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing/Red Hook Summer) and Todd Solondz (Happiness/Life Dyring Wartime). Luckily Wong Kar Wai kept the connection between his two films at a minimum (Maggie Cheung plays the same character in both films). This loose connection apparently came about during pre-production of In The Mood For Love when Maggie Cheung was having a difficult time getting through a scene and Wong Kar Wai asked her to play the scene as if she was "Su" from Days Of Being Wild and it just kinda stuck. And although Tony Leung's character at the end of Days Of Being Wild has no name or real connection to anything, I always considered his appearance at the end of Days Of Being Wild to be a pre-cursor to In the Mood For Love. Wong Kar Wai also borrows key shots from his previous films to use in In The Mood For Love...
Happy Together (1997) / In The Mood For Love (2000)
Days Of Being Wild (1991) / In The Mood For Love
Set in the early 1960's, In The Mood For Love follows "Chow" (Tony Leung) - a fiction writer & "Su" (Maggie Cheung) - a secretary, who live next door to each other with their spouses in the same tight/claustrophobic apartment building. Both Chow & Su suspect (and are correct in suspecting) that they're significant others are having an affair with each other. Instead of confronting their spouses they form a (platonic) friendship and try to work out why they were cheated on. In The Mood For Love isn’t so much about the act of infidelity or why people cheat but about the pain it causes others. Neither Chow's wife nor Sue's husband are seen together...actually we never really see them at all. We just get hints of their existence. Besides enduring the pain of infidelity, both; Chow & Su have to endure the gossip that starts to surface among their neighbors about them (Ironically, people start to suspect THEM of cheating with each other because they spend so much time together). Their friendship almost plays out like an affair. Due to the fact that friendships between men & women are kinda frowned upon in their community they have to keep it on the low. They rent a motel room together away from where they live in order to avoid the gossip & rumors. How often do you hear of a married man & a married woman renting a motel room together just to hang out & be friends? But that’s what makes the plot so great. Chow & Su know that if they act on their attraction for one another (which does exist) that they would be no different than their spouses who cheated on them so they fight their attraction as much as possible. And whats funny is that they both get a "free pass" to cheat with one another in my book. There was actually a love scene filmed between the two main characters but it ended up on the cutting room floor as to not make the story predictable. Instead Wong Kar Wai leaves things a bit more ambiguous...
This is very much a Chinese film but the influence of western culture is everywhere from the way the characters dress (the male characters emulate Clarke Gable, the women have beehive hairdos like typical American housewives & the office settings are very Americanized) to the film's soundtrack which prominently features music from Nat King Cole. Instead of giving In The Mood For Love a timeless or ambiguous setting, Wong Kar Wai makes it more than obvious that the story takes place in the 1960's. He lays the nostalgic qualities of the early 1960's on the viewer pretty heavy (mostly through wardrobe) yet it’s not problematic or distracting from the plot at all. I've seen Maggie Cheung in tons of films and never found her sexy or desirable (maybe cute but that’s it). Thanks to her wardrobe & make-up in the film she looks absolutely beautiful. And once again, there's no nudity at all. In fact she's clothed pretty much from head to toe all the time. The dresses she wears (along with Christopher Doyle's cinematography & Wong's extensive use of slow motion) accentuate her curves. I didn’t even realize she had any curves.

This film gets away with another thing I usually can’t stand which is a loud score. Normally when a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan uses music in a film that's louder than the actors (Inception & Dark Knight Rises) I throw a mini-conniption fit on the inside. Although beautiful, In The Mood For Love's score is a bit loud but somehow it doesn’t seem to bother me. I guess that’s because there isn't the same amount of dialogue as your average film (apparently Wong Kar Wai doesn’t work from traditional scripts anyway). Another plus about this film is that instead of clocking in at some epic three hour long saga, In The Mood For Love gets its point across in just 90 minutes.
Tony Leung’s performance has been compared to Clarke Gable but in my opinion it’s more along the lines of an Alex Descas performance (35 Rhums, I Can't Sleep, No, Fear No Die). Much like Descas (who's cinematic relationship with Claire Denis is pretty much identical to Wai & Leung) not once in the film does Tony Leung yell, raise his voice, cry or lose control of his emotions. He's cool, calm & collected from beginning to end. Its easy for a man to flip out & lose it after discovering his wife has cheated yet we don't see that with him. AND he doesn't come off like a submissive or weak husband either. The saga of Chow & Su was made in to a trilogy with 2046 which focuses more on Chow with a brief mention of Su. Although 2046 is a great film (probably one of the best of 2004) Tony Leung’s performance was a bit more sleazy and a lil’ less likable (really the only thing I disliked about that movie). In The Mood For Love shows an alternative look at men in a situation that would cause them to act typical & destructive. I think all of Wai's films, along with most of the performances in them, are a good source for women who have a narrow minded view of men on the big screen (or even in real life).


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