In the Mood for Love
Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

My Rating:

A visually fascinating tale of romantic restraint.

Bitable Bytes:
"An incredibly fantastic film--one of the best, in fact, of all time!"
"Classic Tale!"
"Astonishingly Beautiful!"

What to do while watching:
Viewers may have their hands full in the beginning of the film keeping track of what's going on. Toward the end of the film, they may have trouble just staying engaged.

What to eat while watching:
Saimin Noodles.

Not to brag, but I've been rubbing elbows with Mark Sinclair.

What do you mean, "Who?" Mark Sinclair, AKA "Stinky," the creator and animator of Big Empire's own Post-it Theater. Though this may not be in the same league as hanging out with big-name stars like Boots Riley, Larry Harvey, or Viola Frey (What do you mean, "Who, who, and who?"), I consider myself in the in-crowd, anyway.

Just how "in" is Gooden Worsted? Enough to have met Stinky's secret lover, Sara or Sarah (I didn't get the spelling). I think of Sara as someone Woody Allen would have gotten involved with: she is cute, distinctly New Yorkian, and is interested in talking philosophy. Also, she recommended In the Mood for Love, a subtle, slow-paced romance set in Hong Kong in the 1960s.

Having experienced what Sara called "an incredibly fantastic film--one of the best, in fact, of all time," (I'm paraphrasing liberally) I have only two words of warning for Secret Lover Sinclair: Watch out! This love-story is of the unrequited category. It's like the classic tale of Tristan and Isolde: He is a noble guy and she is a chaste woman. They love each other, but due to social restrictions, they do not touch one another. When forced to share a bower, they sleep with a naked sword between them as a sort of inanimate chaperone.

In the Mood for Love focuses on two neighbors. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is the mild-mannered gent whose wife works graveyard shifts and often travels out of the country. For all intents and purposes, he lives alone. His neighbor is the very pretty Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) whose husband goes to Japan for weeks at a time, leaving her basically to her own devices. Both lonely hearts don't blend well with the warm but noisy and nosy families they room with. They are forever going downstairs to the noodle shop for solitary meals.

They meet frequently on the stairs: Chow with his slicked hair and deep eyes, Chan with her extraordinarily beautiful dresses. The shots are slow, focusing on street lights, alleys in the rain, small rooms. A fascinating counterpoint to U.S. filmmaking exists in the way so many interior shots are filmed from a room adjacent to where the actors are. Most U.S. films put the camera in the same room and give close-ups of the actors' faces. Here, the shots are through doorways, and a great many actions happen partially or completely off-camera. It gives the viewer the sense of interloping. Indeed, there is a sense of chaste courtship in the very watching of this movie.

When Chow and Chan surmise that their spouses are doing more than just traveling a lot, that extramarital hanky-panky is really what's wedging their respective marriages apart, they begin to get the idea that perhaps they, too, should enjoy more of each others' company. Mr. Chow resolves to become a writer, and Mrs. Chan becomes his main muse, enabling them to grow much closer than two casual neighbors ought to grow by Hong Kong standards in the 1960s. But with their self-imposed directive of not sinking to the level of their unfaithful spouses, Mrs. Chan consistently diverts the romance and plays the good wife. Chow, thoroughly a gentleman, never pressures her, and offers friendship.

They begin to act different scenarios, Chow playing Chan's husband so she can practice confronting him with his infidelity, for example. The unpretentious comment on the art of acting is only there if you look for it: there is nothing heavy-handed about the meta-text. Instead, these characters' acts of acting make for one or two incredible scenes, when the viewer does not realize that they have gone into their acting game until the scene ends.

The simplicity of the film is astonishingly beautiful in many places. The symbolic use of everyday objects--a handbag, a tie, noodles, a clock--creates a real sense of sincerity. Both Mrs. Worsted and I found the film quite beautiful.

But for both of us, the pacing was strange. Perhaps it's the unfamiliarity with the Hong Kong film style, but we both found it quite awkward that many scenes crept by so painstakingly and that there was almost no climax of plot. Furthermore, after so many plodding scenes, title shots jumped us ahead three to five years at a time. "Cambodia, 1968" suddenly follows a slow 70 minutes in Hong Kong, 1963. Final title shots summarize the rest of Mr. Chow's life for us, how he never forgot her, etc.

On a deeper analysis, I sense something missing from this movie. The autobiography within the story is too plain and too much from Chow's perspective. This makes the dynamic between crush and social restraint unbalanced. That is, given all the parameters of the relationship, it doesn't ring true that restraint wins. I'm guessing that the real-life Chan simply wasn't that attracted to the real-life Chow, which throws off certain aspects of the movie plot that depend on their mutual love. Finally, the sparseness of the movie, that makes it so fascinating in some ways, also somewhat undermines the ability to see depth in these characters, and that, in turn, undermines my ability as a viewer to care about them.

Not to say I didn't care at all, for I did. But when I say that the movie was fascinating, I mean it in the same sense that a diamond is fascinating. You can stare at it, and it holds your focus, but probably not for 90 minutes.

Want to share a happy story with Gooden?

Gooden loves to share!

For your collection: In the Mood for Love (VHS), In the Mood for Love (DVD)

Gooden's listening to: The Best of John Lee Hooker (1965-1974) Includes classics "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" and, of course, "I'm in the Mood," as well as "Serves Me Right to Suffer." My mom once heard this lyric as "She serves me rice for supper." I said, "Jeez, mom! This is the blues! Why would he sing the blues about having rice for supper?" She said, "Maybe he doesn't like rice. You didn't like rice until you were 13 or 14." My mom simply does not understand the blues.

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