Film Thoughts: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE [Hong Kong | 2000]

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE – will make you fall in love with Wong Kar Wai, especially, if this is his first film that you are watching. My thoughts on this sumptuously crafted and subtly woven film can end here for certainly that is the summary of it all. But there is a lot more to talk about the film.

[But before that – in a city like Bhubaneswar there aren’t any public avenues to watch World Cinema. Certainly the larger demographic is oblivious to what World Cinema is. To most here Hollywood represents World Cinema and what could have been more disturbing than this? One can argue in favor of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but watching a thought provoking film in a big screen along with other curious mind(s) is an experience that no argument can counter. In such a scenario the Film Society of Bhubaneswar is the only savior. They screened Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love along with Days of Being Wild as part of their June screening. I experienced Wai for the first time with “In the Mood for Love”.]

One would instantly notice the detailing that has been maintained in every scene throughout the film. The slow panning has been interestingly used to bring the subject into frame, rather the frame onto the subject, thereby driving your empathy gradually towards the predicament the subjects are in. The other thing that has also been very uniquely used throughout is the screenplay from behind veils, translucent curtains, through gaps found in the back of chairs and such. It always gave into a mystery and mystic feeling about the characters who are in focus yet out of focus – signifying a lot about the many confusions that cluttered their minds: emotions and the natural urge versus the high moral standards they want to uphold to.

The film’s main narrative is nothing different if one would say it in plain text. But like an auteur’s film, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE wins you through its screenplay, usage of light, cinematography, acting and music which takes the entire context of adultery and morality deeper with a higher philosophical undertone. Set in Hongkong of sixties, the film is about two characters – Chow Mo-wan (played by Tony Leung), a journalist and Su Li-zhen (played by Maggie Cheung), a secretary from a shipping company, both of whom rent a room in an apartment of a building on the same day. Their encounters on the streets or in the stairs were limited to exchange of pleasantries but both of them shared together a lot of loneliness and pain separately in each of their apartment rooms. Chow’s wife and Su’s husband are most of the time out of the town on their work assignments thereby leaving their better halves to lead a monotonous life in an otherwise crowded city.

There are beautifully shot motifs with lovely background scores showing both these characters carrying forward with their mundane jobs with a smile in their face and hollowness in their heart. During the course of time both gather that their spouses are almost always out (of town) during the same time eventually realizing that they were having extra marital affairs. Chow and Su feel devastated to acknowledge this in front of each other, initially thinking, that only one of them knew about it. [Generally, had the film been made in Bollywood/Hollywood there would have been some very obvious direction that the narrative would have moved. Wong Kar Wai’s mastery lies in exploring beyond the obvious even in such a straightforward plot.] Both Mr. Chow and Ms. Su become curious to know why their spouse’s cheated on them or how it would have begun. Their conversations used to be “What would they be doing now?” followed up by some role play to understand their respective partner’s psyche. While it was a futile exercise to do, they made a point – “We would not be like them” and they agreed, rather promised, to each other.

Mr. Chow nurtured few other aspirations, one of them was to write his own comic books series but never found inspiration. Ms. Su wished to have somebody to talk and share with but never had a soulmate beside her. For each other they filled these empty slots and they felt happy about it. But were careful about the fact that both had agreed “not to be like them”. With passage of time, however, conversations became – “Why did you call me today?”, “I wanted to hear your voice”. They come close to each other literally, when Ms. Su in a reflex leans on Mr. Chow’s shoulder and cries about her failed marriage, yet a dignified respect keeps them apart. The film actually goes on a high from here speaking a lot about the unspoken. You feel you have entered into a terrific drama (minus the melo) where both secretly craved, loved and desired for each other but wanted to uphold the other person’s moral character. It’s so suffocating at one level – where as an audience you also feel for their situation and want them to express their love for each other yet the film and filmmaker has a different plan. There could not have been a better emotional beating than this.

There are coincidences and narrow misses – which both understand and acknowledge – like the burnt cigarette with the lipstick mark in Mr. Chow’s apartment in Singapore (where he had moved to so that Ms Su doesn’t have to suffer since he has now developed feelings for her) informed him that even after a year’s gap Ms. Su has not forgotten him. She had come all the way to Singapore just to see him, waited for him (to return) yet left without meeting him. And then many years later both turn up into the same apartment where once they lived, to look for the other, yet they could not meet.

Wai also touches upon the political issues of Hongkong in those days and how the society was conservative enough to dismiss a lonely married woman’s late night outs or friendliness between two separately married man and woman. This would have also offered psychological resistance to Chow and Su from succumbing to their urges.

The film is filled with nuances and it ends on that note. The narrative becomes subtle and deep just because it never attempted to show any of the “obvious” action, throughout, yet you end up feeling obviously that’s how it should have been. Though you cringe for their love to blossom, you know the beauty of their relationship lies in their mood to love each other without the obvious physical expression of it.

A must watch!

*** Blog Image Courtesy: From the Internet. No intention to misuse or commercialize. ***

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