Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Lai Chin,, Rebecca Pan, Siu Ping-Lam
If nothing else, In the Mood for Love is virtually unique in that it is a film made up almost entirely of subtle touches and things not said, from which we are made to understand the feelings and motivations of its main characters --Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk). The two are neighbors who become attracted to each other by proximity, then attached to each other when they realize their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. Set in the overcrowded Hong Kong of 1962, the film is amazingly claustrophobic -- the camera crowding in on the players at every opportunity (the film boasts almost no long-shots) -- and is drenched in the dark, heavily saturated colors of a neo-noir, which to some degree In the Mood for Love actually is. Only here, the focus has changed. Where a standard noir would focus on the adulterous couple, Wong Kar-Wai's film focuses on their spouses, who refuse to lower themselves to the level of their legal mates ("For us to do the same thing would mean we are no better than they are") despite the fact that they fall in love themselves. Late in the film Chow Mo-Wan comments that he started his relationship with Su Li-zhen because he wanted to know how the affair between their spouses could have begun, but by the end he knows all too well. Actually, it isn't just their spouses they refuse to be no better than, but nearly everyone around them. Su Li-zhen's boss (Lai Chin) has a wife and a mistress that she helps him juggle, while Chow Mo-Wan has cheerfully amoral co-worker (Siu Ping-Lam) with a well-established line of credit at a brothel. Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-zhen have an incredibly intense relationship -- and a rather peculiar one, in that much of it is based on the two of them acting out painful scenarios in which they pretend to be their faithless mates. Yet the pair connect on a deeper level, too, and even collaborate in writing martial-arts newspaper serials (a shared passion that neither would pursue alone). But do they ever completely consummate their relationship? The film chooses to leave this somewhat vague and the pair are presented as two whose paths cross and only almost connect. At the same time, the intensity of their feelings and the bond between them while it lasts is clearly far greater than anything that might result from a traditional affair. The film is brilliantly subtle without ever resorting to unnecessarily vagueness. There is no doubt about the strength of the emotions depicted and we are made to fully empathize with these characters who ought to have been lovers, but seemingly never quite can be. The acting and Wong Kar-Wai's direction use of the camera and music are nearly flawless, but it must be noted that In the Mood for Love is by no means a film for everyone. It is claustrophobic, it is slowly paced and it is ultimately depressing. It is not, however, humorless: There's one very funny sequence where Su Li-zhen has to hide for hours in Chow Mo-Wan's room because the other inhabitants of the apartment are engaged in an all-night mah jong party. In the Mood for Love will more than reward a viewer willing to work with its deliberate pace and use of nuance rather than outright statement.