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Movie Reviews

In The Mood For Love  

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai...............Chow Mo-wan
Maggie Cheung.....................Su Li-zhen
Rebecca Pan.......................Mrs. Suen
Lai Chen..........................Mr. Ho Ping
Lam Siu......................Ah Ping
Chi-ang Chi.......................The Amah
Directed by: Kar-wai Wong Written by: Kar-wai Wong
Rated PG for thematic elements and brief language
In the Mood For Love
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Years ago when I would lament over my perpetual status as an unmitigatingly unattached individual, I often wondered why some people seemed destined to end up single while others could go from relationship to relationship with stunning ease until they found their one and only true love. Did the lucky ones have some special endearing character trait? Were they merely better looking? Later I came to the realization that perhaps the answer rested within the lamenter. Maybe those who consistently find themselves alone possess an unmatched skill in talking themselves out of true happiness. At least, I came to believe that was my problem.

My reason for bringing this up isn't to bore you with unwanted insight into Michael Brendan's disasters in the quest for emotional consummation, but to draw my own conclusions regarding the characters in Kar-Wai Wong's "In the Mood for Love." The two main players in this sad tale of unrealized happiness are both victims of spousal infidelity, yet the emotional anguish thrust upon them isn't nearly as debilitating as the anguish they inflict upon themselves by not following through on their feelings toward one other.

Now, uptight morality mongers may question the integrity of the previous statement, and perhaps they're right. Remaining obstinate to a strict code of anti-lascivious morals may indeed make them better human beings. It would most assuredly make them unhappier ones.

The setting is Hong Kong in 1962. The story takes place inside a close-quartered apartment building bustling with people eager to rent the last two rooms available. Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and his wife move into the apartment next door to Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and her husband. Chow is a hard-working journalist who houses dreams of writing and publishing martial-arts novels, while Su works as a secretary for a shipping company. There is an immediate attraction between the two, yet neither acknowledges it for obvious reasons. But when both individuals begin to suspect that their respective spouses may be having an affair of their own, they slowly break down the barriers of communication and become friends ... or at least strangers who happen to be on the same parallel journey.

At times, they do discuss the bearing of their respective situations, yet do so in a curiously detached, third-person sort of way. (They even do some role-playing in an effort to practice their responses upon being told of the affair.) Both are aware of their growing love for each other, yet neither is poised enough to acknowledge it. Finally, she asks Chow how he is able to manage, to which he tells her there's no point in brooding over it - a response that is not only dishonest, but one that elicits pity more than respect, showing a false inability on his part to love completely. They continue to find excuses for not coming together, including the fear of possible gossip. (Although with their spouses having an affair, the point seems a bit moot. If that bomb hasn't already detonated, it is certainly approaching its final tick.)

The most interesting thing about "In the Mood for Love" isn't the story or the characters, but the visual technique utilized by Kar-Wai Wong in telling it. First, the characters of the two spouses engaged in the affair are never seen. Wong is far more fascinated with the possibility of the two cheated-on spouses finding true love in each other's embrace then how the two marriages will be affected. Showing their faces would have needlessly complicated the story.

I also admired Wong's skillful utilization of foreground and background planes, especially in the first half-hour when they are becoming suspicious of their spouses' infidelity. While making inquiries via phone calls or apartment attendants, the characters of Chow and Su are shot in a way that conceals the second person in the conversation. It's a brilliant visual technique; another way of pushing the audience's attention toward their intertwining situations rather than mulling over each one's serparate dilemma.

Wong's marvelous artistic style culminates into a final series of shots that, coupled with Mike Galasso's haunting musical score, seem to echo the deepest longings of the human soul. The story is unquestionably sad, as are many developments through one's own life. Rarely however, is it recreated with such unfathomable, heartbreaking beauty.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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