March 29, 2001

Mood Movie

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Kar-wai Wong’s (Fallen Angels) latest film, In the Mood for Love, is quite difficult to follow, let alone understand, mainly due to its unorthodox style of narration. But that is exactly what makes it an enjoyable experience.

Set in Hong Kong in 1962, the plot follows the relationship that develops between two neighbors, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a newspaper editor and writer, and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), a secretary, both of whom are married, but have adulterous spouses who are never around. Mr. Chow uses Mrs. Chan to help him develop his narrative writing, which is his true passion even though he works as a journalist. Unfortunately, this leads to a confusing love affair.

Although this plot seems typical for a film, it differs drastically from the standard Hollywood love story in how it unfolds. For the first half of the film, the action centers around the mundane aspects of the characters’ daily lives without really developing any of the characters or the problematic marriages that bring them together. This makes the film seem more realistic, as enough clues are planted for the story to be logical without it becoming melodramatic.

Ironically, the second half of the film, which encompasses the majority of the plot, seems intentionally staged and awkward. This contributes to the film’s resolution, or lack thereof, and makes the outcome seem more acceptable.

The cinematography uses the full potential of film as an art medium to create unique shot sequences without having to rely on special effects. The shots themselves are able to convey meaning in many cases, without the use of dialogue or monologue, which is a true testament to the director’s ability.

The use of musical motifs to accompany related scene sequences serves as a crucial link between the superficial action and the more important emotions of the film. The quality of these compositions is particularly high, and they are pensive in tone. This makes them easy to become caught up in, which is definitely beneficial considering the emotional nature of the film.

One of these key motifs is in Spanish, with no translation provided, which is intriguing considering that the film was shot in Mandarin Chinese. If you as a viewer are able to understand this piece (which only requires a rudimentary knowledge of the language), the film’s meaning becomes more clear.

If you want mindless amusement for a weekend night, see another movie. I would recommend this film to anyone who is willing to leave the theatre confused and give further thought to it afterward. With that in mind, it is best to see it while fully alert with a talkative and analytical companion.

Archived article by Louis Benowitz