Thursday, September 24, 2015

In the Mood for Love

This is Wong Kar-wai's second movie on my world cinema quest. His Chunking Express is often called one of the great movies of the 90's, and I just thought it was good not great. But even higher praise has been heaped on his 2000 movie In the Mood for Love, which was named in a critics poll by Sight and Sound magazine as the 2nd best movie of the 2000's (only behind David Lynch's brilliant Mulholland Dr.). And at the Korean Busan International Film Festival this year, In the Mood for Love was named the 3rd best Asian movie ever made, only behind Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story and Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Yet in a repeat of my feelings, I think this movie is very admirable and good, but not great.

The star of Chunking, Tony Leung, again stars here, this time alongside the great Maggie Cheung, as two people who move into neighboring rooms in a cramped Hong Kong apartment building in 1962. They both move in with their (unseen) spouses, who through the course of the movie we find out are having an affair with one another. So our stars begin spending a lot of time together, but remain platonic, so as to not stoop to the same level as their cheating spouses. This is despite the fact that both have developed feelings for the other, but they also are both going along with the other saying they shouldn't act, even though they both want to. The main theme of this movie is really the things that go unsaid, in every way possible.

Both actors are terrific. Leung has a face of instant empathy. He feels like a genuinely good person and we want him to find love, which he doesn't have with the wife he rarely sees. Maggie Cheung's face is harder to read, though her body language in the beautiful but restrictive clothing of the time is surprisingly expressive. The movie is also gorgeous to look at, with smoke and rain and a wonderful playing of shadow and light from Wong, even if he still uses a subtler version of his shutter stop slow motion he used in Chunking that I'm not a fan of.

I love bittersweet love stories. Times when you're genuinely not sure whether the leads will end up together or not, and you ache and yearn for those moments when you wish they'd ask one more question, or just turn around to see something or whatever and things would be different. I think my problem with In the Mood for Love is that it doesn't seem like these people have to be together. It doesn't seem like they're meant for each other or would even necessarily connect to one another if not for their circumstances and location. The characters are not very sharply drawn, and don't have even the kind of hinted at character traits I felt in Chunking Express. So the whole thing felt like an exercise in style more than character, and I think it could've used a little more balance.

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