In the Mood for Love: Criterion Collection
October 22, 2012
Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai may be the master of unrequited love. Think of the cop with a crush on a femme fatale in Chungking Express (1994) or the hitman whose handler admires him from afar in Fallen Angels (1995). However, In the Mood for Love (2000) is his masterpiece – a rich, atmospheric ode to romantic longing and yearning. Inspired by the short story “Intersection” by celebrated Chinese writer Liu Yi-chang and Wong’s own memories of growing up in the 1960s, his film depicts the friendship that develops between two lonely people in Hong Kong, 1962.
Chow Mo-wan (Leung) is a newspaperman who has just moved into an apartment with his wife. Next door, Si Li-zhen (Cheung), an executive secretary, has also moved into a place with her husband. It just so happens that their respective spouses are constantly out of town at the same time and are having an affair. Initially, Chow and Su are unaware of their spouses cheating ways and contact with each other is brief and fleeting, kind and courteous. Chow and Su being to flirt with having one of their own. Interestingly, we never get a good look at the faces of the cheating spouses and they get very little screen-time with the focus on Chow and Su.
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung make for a fascinating almost couple and over the course of the film we want so badly for them to give in to their feelings for each other, but, of course, common sense and the cultural decorum of the day prevents them from acting on their impulses. It is what their characters don’t say to each other, but is conveyed through longing glances, that says so much. Speaking of which, there are incredible moments of longing, like the sequence where Chow and Su, caught out in the rain at night, take refuge at different spots on the street. Their respective body language conveys their loneliness, while how they are framed in a shot relates to their isolation.
Wong has a fantastic eye for detail, not just the period clothes and furniture (which are incredible), but also in showing the every day minutia of Chow and Su’s lives, like showing them at work. It is these bits of business that inform us about their characters. What they do and say tells us a lot about them. So does what they wear, from Su’s stunning, form-fitting floral print dresses to Chow’s impeccably-tailored business suits.
There are beautiful, almost hypnotic slow motion shots of Chow and Su going to and from work through dimly-lit streets at night or up and down the stairs of their building to the repeated strains of a waltz. Thanks to Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin’s breathtaking atmospheric cinematography, Wong immerses us in this cinematic world he has created. It’s a place where people dine on green jadeite plates while Nat King Cole plays in the background of a restaurant.
In the Mood for Love has become Wong’s most acclaimed film, just edging out his popular breakthrough, Chungking Express. He has yet to surpass this film, coming close with the admirable effort 2046 (2004), a sequel or sorts to In the Mood, which also features world class cinematography but it is too abstract narratively. It lacks the former film’s passion and soul.
The Criterion Collection has given Wong’s film a simply amazing Blu-Ray upgrade. For a film that has such striking imagery, this new transfer really shows them off. In the Mood for Love has never looked better. The sound is also top notch with atmospheric effects spread out and the music coming across crisp and clear.
There are two new extras with this Blu-Ray edition but sadly the interactive essay by film scholar Gina Marchetti is gone, as is the photo gallery, key cast and crew biographies. In the liner notes, we no longer have the essays film critic Li Cheuk-to and the director’s statement.
“@ In the Mood for Love” is a 51-minute making of documentary that traces the film’s origins to actual filming and how Wong made changes to the story as he went along. He says this film exists in the same world as his second film, Days of Being Wild (1990), also set in the ‘60s. Tony Leung claims that early on the film was more erotic in nature but somewhere along the way changed to be more subtle.
There are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Wong. He provides a bit of backstory to the footage and shares filming anecdotes. One scene revisits the characters 10 years later and we see how much they’ve changed in that time.
“Hua yang de nian hau” is a montage of images from Chinese cinema set to Zhou Yuan’s song of the same name. Wong uses archival footage to celebrate his country’s rich cinematic history.
There is an interview with Wong Kar-Wai and he talks about the challenge of getting his film made during an economic crisis in Hong Kong. He speaks of his fondness for the time period depicted in the film. He also speaks eloquently about the characters and his approach to them while also briefly talking about how he directed Cheung and Leung’s performances.
“Cinema Lessons” features an interview with Wong at the Cannes Film Festival. He talks about his love of principal photography, which, for him, is like a vacation – hence his infamously long shoots.
Also included is the press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival with Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They talk about working with Wong and how he never has a complete screenplay and likes to improvise while filming. They speak of the challenges they faced making it and how it made for a sometimes frustrating experience.
New to this edition is “On In the Mood for Love,” which features an interview with film critic Tony Rayns. He puts the film in the context of Wong’s career and how personal a work it is to the director. Rayns points out that Wong drew on his experiences of growing up in Hong Kong during the ‘60s.
The other new extra is “The Soundtrack,” which features Rayns talking about the film’s richly evocative soundtrack. Wong chose a mix of pop songs, Nat King Cole, waltzes and original instrumental music. You can also listen to 12 tracks from the soundtrack.
Finally, there are television spots from Hong Kong, the United States and France as well as trailers from these three countries.