IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is a beautifully shot, romantic drama that is unrelentingly
sad but touchingly honest. Like THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, the picture which it most
resembles, the story tells of two circumspect lovers who have the bad luck to be
in love and married, but not to each other. A movie which is perhaps more
remarkable for what it doesn't show than what it does, it draws us into its slow
rhythms from the first scene. Among things left to our imagination are what
their much-discussed-but-never-seen spouses are like and what, if any, physical
intimacy, other than brief hand caresses, ever takes place between the two
The story begins in Hong Kong in 1962 when Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) moves into
the apartment next door to Mr. Chow (Tony Leung). Leung won the award for Best
Actor at Cannes for his work as the show's troubled lover. Both performances
are delicately nuanced and emotionally involving. In one long sequence we
witness Mrs. Chan contemplating her sorrow. She is so frozen than she looks
like life itself has knocked the breath out of her.
Writer and director Kar-wai Wong's last film was HAPPY TOGETHER, which I hated.
This time, however, he comes up with a brilliant script and gets stunning
performances out of his stars. A keenly observant film, it has us witnessing
much of the action from a distance or from an adjoining room. Sometimes, we see
one character but not the other in a conversation that takes place across rooms.
And, sometimes, the actors leave us in the hallway as they carry on their
discussions within our ear range but not within view.
The actions -- maybe activities would be a more apt term -- take place in
offices as well as apartments, streets and restaurants. This is particularly
refreshing since films tend to ignore office locales even though real human
beings spend substantial portions of their lives there.
With both spouses out of town for an extended period -- Mrs. Chow has left for a
while because of a marital spat, and Mr. Chan is abroad on a long business trip
-- Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan go to a restaurant together. Nominally, he has
invited her out in order to find out where he could buy a handbag like hers as a
birthday present for his wife. Mrs. Chan awkwardly points out that his wife
probably wouldn't want the same purse as the woman next door. Her attempt at
polite small talk fails as well. When she compliments his tie, he admits that
all credit should go to his wife, since she chooses his clothes. Speaking of
clothes, women really won the fashion race in 1960's Hong Kong. Mrs. Chan's
tight-fitting, flowered-print dresses are uniformly alluring and beautiful,
whereas Mr. Chow's thin ties and starched white shirts are unappealingly
Slowly their relationship builds. How far it actually goes is up to the
viewer's interpretation. Almost the only time that we see more than their hands
touch is when Mr. Chow provides a shoulder for Mrs. Chan to cry on. But the
signs of increasing intimacy are unmistakable, even if modest. He, for example,
puts a dollop of hot mustard on her plate without asking permission. She smiles
and takes his unspoken advice to sample it. It's a small moment, but quite a
"I'm just an average guy," an avuncular friend of Mr. Chow's tells him. "I
don't keep secrets like you. I don't bottle things up." We can never be quite
sure what relationship Mr. Chow has with Mrs. Chan, but we can tell that its
necessary secrecy eats away at Mr. Chow like a cancer.
As the story advances, it becomes increasingly clear that our Mr. Chow and Mrs.
Chan have never thought through the end game of their affair. The movie, on the
other hand, seems to have thought of nothing but, containing, as it does, four
endings. Surprisingly, these aborted attempts to stop are just as engrossing as
the body of the story. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is a hauntingly beautiful tale that
will stay with you long after the last of these many endings.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE runs 1:37. The film is in Cantonese with English
subtitles. It is rated PG for thematic elements and brief language and would be
acceptable for anyone old enough to be interested in the story's themes.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes