VOD film review: In the Mood for Love
Daniel Broadley | On 15, Feb 2022
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung
Watch In the Mood for Love online in the UK: Sundance Now
“In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share, you know what they did? … They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret in the hole. Then they covered it with mud and left the secret there forever.”
By the turn of the millennium, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai had already developed and refined his unique filmmaking style, forging long-lasting partnerships with the exquisite and often abstract cinematographer Christopher Doyle and costume and production designer William Chang. Despite starting production with no script in place, Wong Kar-wai is known to be a meticulous filmmaker who oversees every aspect of his productions, releasing the critically acclaimed Happy Together, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels in the 90s. But it is 2000’s In The Mood for Love that takes the jewel in the crown of Wong’s filmography.
In Hong Kong 1962, neighbours Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen (career-defining performances from Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) may well be in the mood for love, but it is neither the time nor the place – maybe not even the right lifetime. After moving into adjacent flats, they yearn and long for one another in a subtly told and visually lush story, as the lonely pair refuse to stoop to the lows of their adulterous partners.
The result is a masterful evocation of abstained love, longing and desire, and the fleeting moments and details that make up the tapestries of life: a glance over the shoulder while passing in the corridor, a head on a shoulder in a late-night taxi. Our reluctant couple often dance around the subject of their feelings for each other, with moments of intimacy captured in slow-motion under neon lights, suggesting they long for these moments to last forever.
During their platonic relationship, Chow and Su rehearse with each other how they’ll confront their respective partners about their affairs. Afterwards, Su embraces Chow, bursting into tears. It may have just been a rehearsal, absurd even, but the emotions each felt were real. It’s as if they are speaking in code, further skirting around that which cannot be said. The fact that they do not act on their feelings for one another raises their romance to an almost righteous status against their cheating spouses, whose relationship is kept firmly off-screen.
In contrast to most romantic dramas, In The Mood for Love finds its release in separation rather than a happy-ever-after. Chow and Su’s love is sentenced to whispers of what was never to be.
In the Mood for Love is available on Sundance Now, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription, with a 7-day free trial.