There is a recurrent sound of a sensual waltz that accompanies each encounter between Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) as they invariably cross paths in a crowded residential complex: the first is a polite glance as Mo-Wan leaves the room of a friendly card game; and then during the subsequent encounters on the steps of a noodle shop, where, often denied dinner companionship by their spouses, they stop for a quick meal. One evening, Mo-Wan asks to meet Su Li-zhen in a restaurant, admires her purse, and asks where he could buy one as a present to his wife. She explains that it is a gift from her husband that was purchased during a recent international business trip, and is not locally available. Su Li-zhen, in turn, asks Mo-Wan about his tie, and he responds that it is a gift from his wife. The subtle, underplayed moment is a knowing confirmation of their own nagging suspicions about their spouses’ infidelity. The two begin to rehearse scenarios in order to prepare themselves for the seemingly inevitable emotional confrontation: who initiated the affair; how to broach the subject of infidelity; how to react after the shattering admission. When Mo-Wan decides to pursue a lifelong dream of writing a martial arts serial in order to pass the time, Su Li-zhen agrees to proofread his work. However, when their professional collaboration leads to an undeniable attraction, the two find themselves struggling with the shame and guilt over their own emotional betrayal.
Using graceful slow motion sequences and nostalgic music, Wong Kar-wai juxtaposes the romanticism of a lost era with the unrequited longing of an impossible relationship in In the Mood for Love. Wong’s highly stylized camerawork serves as a visual foil to the chaos of the meticulously structured mise-en-scene: the crowded living conditions, overly familiar neighbors, and imposing, uninvited guests reflect the claustrophobic, intrusive nature of traditional society. In contrast, the suffused colors of the empty restaurant and the long, reverse tracking shot of the hallway leading to Mo-Wan’s creative retreat reflect the uninhibited freedom of their surfacing emotions. Furthermore, Su Li-zhen’s seductively bold and exquisitely tailored high collared dresses manifest her paradoxical character: passionate, yet reserve; sensual, yet conservative. In essence, the visual dichotomy of the film serves as a reflection of the emotional turmoil that results from their innocuous alliance. In the Mood for Love is a subtly intoxicating and hypnotic film on love and longing, fate and destiny, connection, and isolation.
© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.