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In the Mood For Love

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: In the Mood For Love

Starring: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Rated: PG
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: February 2001
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Lai Chen, Rebecca Pan, Siu Ping-Lam, Faye Wong

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
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Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When married couples go out together, double-dating if you will excuse the adolescent term, it it not altogether uncommon to find each of the men attracted to the other's wife and vice versa. Usually the men and women do not act on their fantasies since, after all, what are friends for? Arguably the most romantic American film more or less on the theme, David Lean's "Brief Encounter," makes excellent use of Rachmaninoff's ardent Second Piano Concerto to pump up the desire felt between two strangers, both married, who meet at a train station and find themselves drawn into a poignant romance. In Wong Kar-Wai's current version of the motif, a pair of next-door neighbors, Chow Mo- Wan (Tony Leung), and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), imperceptibly discover that their spouses are having an affair. They find they are drawn to each other What do they do about it? If this were an American film, particularly one shot against the background of the sexually free 1970s, we know what would result, whether out of revenge for the marital partners' indiscretions or in the heat of the moment. But Wong's film takes place in the Far East during the early sixties, particularly in and around the damp streets of Hong Kong, with Mark Li Ping-bin's camera showing groups of Chinese residents possessing a fair amount of prosperity moving to and fro, while in the buildomg inhabited by the two principals, the neighbors often play mah-jongg throughout the day.

Su is the secretary in a shipping company and works side by side with her boss, who is subtly shown to be having an affair with a younger woman. Lonely for the absent man while her neighbor, Chow, is missing his own bed partner, they would expect to get together for more than a string of dinners in informal coffee houses and chats in Chow's apartment. But even during a period in which Su, tired from having to hide out for hours in Chow's flat rather than risk being caught exiting the room by her neighbors, is able to recline stiffly on his bed without messing a strand of her mummified coiffure.

Wong Kar-Wei, whose faster-paced "Chungking Express" featured Tony Leung in a pair of related stoires of lovesickness, obsession and the peccadilloes of relationships, beats a different drum this time around. Where "Chungking" is light, frothy and delightfully offbeat, "In the Mood" is more straightward, meditative, and concerned to show its audience a palette of colors in scenes of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Cambodia. While the conversation between the two shy neighbors is relatively free of Pinteresque pauses, Wong allows us to form impressions of the relationship through the gaps in the story, forcing us to imagine the connection between Su's and Chow's spouses, to absorb the bonds that take place within the housing complex, to take an armchair journey in portions of the world which are distant from the West and yet share in the Occident's cultural values.

Wong is almost obsessed with showing consumption of food, usually noodles which the two people share at Chow's place and even, surprisingly, a steak that the two indulge in with forks and knives in a barebones but pleasant little restaurant. Food and love are closely connected, of course, and in one scene that's far from a sybaritic representation of the randy gluttony in Tony Richardson's "Tom Jones," Chow places a dollop of spicy mustard next to his partner's steak, asking her whether she likes her sustenance hot.

As the very title suggests, this is a picture to be enjoyed for mood rather than literal essence, using a soundtrack of Nat King Cole favorites in place of Rachmaninoff's Second in the sound track. Notwithstanding an overlong coda that take us to Kampuchean sites to represent the increasing distance of the two, "In the Mood for Love" is a fine, but muted showcase for the talents of its two prolific stars.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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