Some of the best films I’ve ever watched are ironically the ones I find difficulty in talking about. Wong Kar-wai‘s personal revisionism always seem at odds with a body of work that fixates on the past as the one thing that never changes. Known for films with elliptical tones and alluring mood, the greatest thing about Wong Kar Wai is how he manages to capture the upheavals of Hong Kong’s history, underneath his masterfully crafted films.
In the Mood For Love is a melancholy tale of love and loneliness. The post-modern auteur who’s given us some of the best films, infuses notions of identity and urban isolation here. The fusion between east and west in context with themes of love and loneliness looms over the protagonists: Chow Mo-wan played by Tony Leung and a dazzling Su Li-zhen played by Maggie Cheung. Through clever juxtaposition, the struggle of connecting with other people is poetically portrayed, as the sense of nostalgia prevails in the background.
Individually, the shots of this film are gorgeous to look at and feel atmospheric. Collectively, they take on a whole new depth. It takes Wong’s modern style to its zenith, while being subtly expressive of the characters’ emotions. It’s almost as if the film is a culmination of all the key themes he hinted at and played with in his earlier films. Known for the brashness and crisscrossing plots; the images, characters, time and frames of this modern masterpiece fold and weave upon each other with no real certainty. And yet, they collectively evoke the feeling of a place you can’t belong in or hold onto, even when you are inventing it moment by moment.
Although Wong Kar-wai’s always known for intervening the uncertainties of late-twentieth-century Hong Kong into shaping the texture of all his characters’ private lives in almost all his films, In The Mood For Love sees him realize this very tool indelibly. This is the kind of film where the style is the movie; it’s an inseparable part of it. The film almost feels like a chorus or a stanza in a poem that keeps repeating itself, especially with the use of music and the sequence at the stairway where the couple passes each other as a part of their daily monotonous routines, in drizzling rain. Every time the two characters pass each other, it feels like two halves of a broken heart are throbbing right next to each other.
The threat of loss is what gives any love story its power, but Wong’s career has been an experiment in deconstruction. The already mesmerising film elevates itself with its heartbreaking finale, which gives one a choice to look at the entire film with a different lens altogether, without ever going the melodramatic route. And that’s the mastery of Wong Kar-wai.
The greatest strength of the film, however, is for it to have such a universality, inspite of being soaked into the culture of Hong Kong and the political history of the place. The film’s more than what it may seem at first; a moving reflections on life’s fundamentals.
Wong Kar-wai with his regular collaborator, DOP Christopher Doyle, manages to capture the paradoxical loneliness of a crowded city, figuring its place in the world, with elliptical, moody tones. This sets an alluring mood throughout, while also managing to capture the upheavals of Hong Kong’s history. In an interview for the film, Wong said, ‘We tried to create the film from our memories. And in our memories, everything moves slower’.
The movie asks some interesting questions, like what if true love can only sprout out of two people falling for each other without ever consummating their love? Maybe love is only good and at its purest when it’s not realised. In The Mood For Love stands out from all other romantic films of the past decade, because it’s more about restrained love and unfulfilled desires. The quieter moments are used to their maximum in order to convey the interiority of the characters’ emotions. The film makes you go through all those emotions by almost making you feel like you’re eavesdropping on the couple at its center. The emphasis on the wardrobe and the deep reds renders it into becoming one of the most pristine looking films of the past 20 years. The chemistry between the camera and the environment too, feels as strong as the chemistry between the film’s leads.
Over the past two years, we’ve constantly been exposed to intense sociopolitical climate across the world. Once the lockdown hit, it all got amplified. It became inevitable for most of us to draw parallels and emphasize on the important relationship between how instability and the politics around you can affect you and people right next to you. In The Mood For Love‘s reputation has grown over the years, drawing people towards its enigmatic themes. The plot is microscopic, yet there’s a timeless vision imprinted over the film. The way the images are put together induce that magic, leaving a profound impact on the viewers. In the end, we’re left reminiscing not just about the time of Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan’s lives, but also of the ones lost in their surroundings.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.