In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love ★★★★½

I don't know why, but I kind of went looking for excuses to be disappointed with this movie. Not because I wanted to dislike it, just that I suppose it's been so hyped up and I've waited until watching five other Wong Kar-Wai's films to 'ready' me for this one that I expected it wouldn't be so good. I do think it has its flaws but I can't deny how arresting, how enticing it is.

I think what's most interesting is how WKW changes up his directing style into something much more slow, languid, composed, and sensual. In his earlier films (particularly Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together) his shots are very quick and kinetic, often utilizing a choppy, disorienting technique that feels very jarring. They are also filmed with a handheld-camera and you definitely feel that in some shots. In the Mood for Love is totally different, and might be one of the smoothest, silkiest, most ""mise-en-scène"" movies I've ever seen.

It's particularly fun to see the two leads play their own spouses in certain scenes, because you don't know that to begin with and it feels both meta and straightforward at the same time, like it's operating both at a level below and a level above what the script says. Of course we get clued in pretty clearly as to what's happening, but while it's happening it feels completely real. Which brings me to the other thing I loved and that is how ridiculously good the two leads are. I know this is a huge statement, but Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung here feel like they've achieved an incredibly rare level of excellence that could even inspire Daniel Day-Lewis. They play such subtle characters, each interacting within the very limiting confines that 60's Hong Kong society allows them to, often communicating far more with their gazes and lingers than with their words. And even then, their words have so much more to say than what they say, as required to fly beneath the scrutiny of others: it's what they imply and what they suggest that's the real communication.

An immediate rewatch is probably required, and as I'm writing this I'm going back and examining prior scenes with a newfound appreciation. The way the two are so different from every other character, cementing how much they belong together; the way we never see their respective spouses because that's beneath the story they want to tell us; the incredible use of music that acts as an additional channel of communication in addition to body language and implications; the incredibly cramped feeling along the interior spaces and the way the camera maneuvers around and forces characters together; and so much more. I think this is "smooth" WKW at his peak (as opposed to "aggressive" WKW with Chungking Express), and at least to me it feels like one of the best movies I've ever seen. I really want to talk about so much more but I'll have to save that material for rewatches.


[Ranked – Wong Kar-wai]

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