In The Mood For Love (2000)

"Never before has a film spoken so fluently in the universal language of loss and desire"- BBC survey (2016) of 177 film Critics about this film

7/29/20235 min read

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in 'In Mood For Love'
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in 'In Mood For Love'

Chinese, 98 minutes, 2000

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Cast: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Siu Ping Lam, Kelly Lai Chen

Awards: Won Best Actor and Technical Grand Prize (For Cinematographer Christopher Doyle) and Nominated for Palme d‘Or at Cannes Film Festival, 2000; Won Best Actress at Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival; Won 5 Awards and was Nominated for 7 other categories at Hong Kong Film Awards, 2001; Won Grand Prix, Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics, 2001; Won Cesar Awards for Best Foreign Film, 2001

The film, set in sixties British Hong Kong, starts with an interesting confusion- Two tenants shifting to adjacent apartments on the same day resulting in mix up of luggage and then relocating it to original owner. Interestingly, for one apartment the shifting is done in supervision of husband (as the wife is away on an official tour) and for other apartment, shifting is supervised by the wife (as the husband is away on an official tour). The similarities do not end here. Later, we discover, as do these characters that their spouses are having an affair- with each other-and this forms the basic premise of an enchanting film.

This film revolves around the lives of Mr. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) who goes by the name Mrs. Chan. Mr. Chow, who writes for a newspaper, and Mrs. Chan, who works as a secretary, for a senior executive, Mr. Ho, in a shipping company, share flats on the same floor. The layout or construction of apartments is such that Mrs. Chan’s house’s entry is through the passage of her landlady, Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan), a caring but domineering lady. Mrs. Suen frequently invites Mrs. Chan for dinner when she sees her alone along with other tenants.

Mrs. Suen, the landlady, and her friends are in a habit of playing Mahajong in the corridor. Since, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are not interested, they are often left alone. Mrs. Chan doesn’t like to cook so she goes to a noodles stall near their building, after returning from work to get food, almost at the same time when Mr. Chow is returning to home. The frequent encounters and occasional meeting at Mrs. Suen’s place, start a formal friendship between the two tenants. In few such meetings, they discover their loneliness and once meet outside after work. There, they discover that their spouses might be having an affair together as Mr. Chow’s necktie (which looks same as Mr. Chan’s necktie) and Mrs. Chan’s handbag (which is same as Mrs. Chow’s handbag) give away the secret.

As Mr. Chow and Mrs.Chan begin to spend more time together, their bond strengthens and an unspoken connection forms between them. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan both like martial arts serials and Mr. Chow is writing a script for one. He asks Mrs. Chan to help him. Since their frequent meeting raises Mrs. Suen, the landlady’s suspicion, Mr. Chow rents another room in a hotel. [The room no. 2046, interestingly, formed the title of Wong Kar-wai’s next film(reviewed by this website) where also it features as a hotel room.] As they write together, the meetings grow and so does their feelings for each other. Soon, Mr. Chow takes up a job in Singapore and asks Mrs. Chan to come with him. The breakdown of Mrs. Chan at realizing that Mr. Chow is going to Singapore for good is so genuinely acted that it is heart wrenching. She can’t commit, even though she really wants to come and when she decides to go with him and arrives at his room, Mr. Chow is already gone.

Next year, Mrs. Chan visits Mr. Chow’s apartment in Singapore, when he is not there. She touches his articles, sleeps on his bed and lounges in a chair taking in the atmosphere and leaves a lipstick stained cigarette in his ash-tray. She even calls him at work, from his room, but doesn’t muster courage to speak. The popular Spanish songs, "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" and “Quizas Quizas Quizas”, sung here brilliantly by Nat King Cole supports the narrative beautifully as it is used frequently in soundtrack underlining their love and longing.

Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung deliver career-defining performances, infusing their characters with a delicate vulnerability with portrayals that are understated yet profound. Maggie Cheung, especially stuns us with her portrayal of Mrs. Chan with epitome of restrain and longing. Their chemistry is so genuine that it becomes impossible not to be emotionally involved with their characters.

The screenplay, penned by Wong Kar-wai himself, is a masterclass in subtle storytelling. He captures the unexpressed emotions that simmer beneath the surface, leaving the audience captivated by their restrained yet intense desire for each other in a film that focuses more on companionship and understanding than infatuation and societal bonds.

About the Director, Wong Kar-Wai

This Hong Kong based film director was born in July, 1958 in Shanghai and later moved to British Hong Kong with his family at a young age. Wong Kar Wai is a highly acclaimed Hong Kong film director known for his distinct and visually stunning filmmaking style.

His first feature ‘As Tears Go By’, released in 1988, is based on criminal world where a young disillusioned criminal is required to keep a watch on his temperamental friend. The film featured hottest young faces of Hong Kong in that film which explored the subject of youth involved in the world of crime. His second feature, ‘Days of being Wild’, released in 1990, highlights a man’s search for his birth mother when his mother tells him that he is an adopted child. The film did win awards for best director and best film at Hong Kong annual awards but didn’t do well at box office. This was a breakaway film in the sense that it did not focus on crime world as was the trend and Wong Kar-Wai’s first film but focused on the personal and emotion journey of an individual.

His next film was ‘Ashes of time’ which was based on popular novel ‘The legend of Condor Heroes’ written by Jin Yong. The film is a historical costume drama depicting Wuxia, ancient martial art of China, culture during Song Dynasty. The film was a costly affair and took long time to make. While doing post production for ‘Ashes of time’ as he was waiting for some equipment, Wong embarked on a small film ‘Chungking Express’ which he planned and completed in only six weeks. This film made Wong famous internationally as his style and technique was noticed by cinephiles.

Wong’s film ‘In the Mood for Love’ is considered unofficially his second part in trilogy starting with 'Days of Being Wild' (1990) and ending with 2046 (2004). 'In the Mood for Love' is highly regarded by critics and in a survey by magazine 'Sights and Sound', it ranked highest among the films made between 1975 and 2022.

One of Wong Kar-Wai's notable trademarks is his innovative use of cinematography and music. He collaborated closely with talented cinematographer Christopher Doyle for six feature films to create visually striking images. Wong Kar Wai frequently employs handheld cameras and quick, fragmented shots to capture the frenetic energy of his characters and their surroundings. This dynamic visual style can be seen in films like "Chungking Express" (1994) and "Fallen Angels" (1995), where the camera movements mimic the restlessness and unpredictability of urban life. Fallen Angels is a crime drama with two criss-crossing storylines forming the narrative. Wong Kar Wai's filmmaking style is characterized by its poetic sensibility, visual elegance, and exploration of the human condition. Through his unique approach to cinematography, production design, editing, and music, he creates films that are both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.