Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
In the Mood for Love is a wonderful film and a masterful semi-sequel to the equally good, perhaps marginally superior, Days of Being Wild. There's so many brilliant and beautiful aspects to In the Mood for Love. Most obviously, the film is a technical marvel with wonderful colour and layered cinematography. There's no question that In the Mood for Love is filled with fine filmmaking. It captures love, regret, and loneliness as a continuous spectrum hidden between untruths and reconstructions. The characters partake in perhaps the quietest, most unfulfilled, romance in cinematic history, but the film is still moving and the final act devastating. In the Mood for Love is a great film.
But In the Mood for Love is overrated. Don't misconstrue this as me diminishing the many accomplishments of In the Mood for Love, but on a relative scale of Wong Kar-Wai's films, In the Mood for Love has been bettered many times. It may be a moving film, but Chungking Express moved me more. It may have a brilliant colour palette, but I personally think the one used in Fallen Angels captures its world better. The cinematography, by Christopher Doyle and Ping Bin Lee, is not even among my favourite by Doyle (Hero, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and Away With Words are all at least as good as In the Mood for Love for visuals). I could have written an essay on the brilliance of In the Mood for Love, but everyone else already has. What I want to say is why I think Wong has made superior films.
The main reason is that In the Mood for Love is a very controlled film. It should be noted that the film was largely improvised and whittled down from tonnes of shot footage, but there's a certain sense of control in every single frame. Every single aspect of In the Mood for Love is signposted and used for obvious effect. Although I don't know whether this comes from the pre-improvisation planning or the editing which removed all but the essential. Yet this careful and deliberate decision-making leaves everything feeling very noticeably artistic rather than naturalistic. The camerawork confines and blocks the characters which is obvious gesturing at their social and mental entrapment. We never see the spouses of the characters because they don't matter to the story and it blurs the lines between who's who more effectively. All of this is impressively done, but it lacks the unassuming nature of most of Wong's 90s work.
All of his 90s films had an energy, spontaneity, and breathlessness that In the Mood for Love lacks because every artistic decision instead feels artificially and deliberately chosen. The rough around the edges, emotional, nonsensical approach of his earlier work made them more endearing to me. The fact that they were more fast paced, and filled with many characters and storylines, made films like Chungking Express and Happy Together seem like unending journeys through various emotional states, both traumatic and ecstatic. By contrast, In the Mood for Love is one simple story, told slowly. It might be told well but it isn't the emotional rollercoaster of Wong's earlier work, merely a finite and steady beat of emotional numbness. It devastates by the end, but it doesn't impact me for as long.
In fact, all of Wong's work in the 2000s feels a lot more controlled even when, as in 2046 and My Blueberry Nights, they become sprawling narratives. Their complex and artistic nature feels like it's all by design, whereas Wong's 90s films feel like an outpouring of creativity that stumbles on profoundness without even trying. Obviously Wong Kar-Wai is a masterful director and I still greatly admire In the Mood for Love (it is my most watched Wong Kar-Wai film) but I'm just saying that on a very subjective personal level, there exists many Wong films that I enjoy more whether that be through their more interesting structure and style or because they make me feel more. Being a very tight and precise movie is usually a positive (and, to be fair, it still is for In the Mood for Love) but Wong's more unbalanced, indelicate movies are my preference. I still really like In the Mood for Love but I'm not certain it would make my top five Wong Kar-Wai films.