I’m a fan of the films of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. I’m in good company: the British Film Institute considers him one of the world’s finest directors. His latest production, yi dai zong shi, has just been released in US cinemas as The Grandmaster. The New York Times describes it as “a hypnotically beautiful dream” and I can’t wait to see it. That description seems to fit much of Wong’s work, none more so than what I believe to be his masterpiece, In the Mood for Love.
The English title of this film – otherwise known as fa yeung nin wa – perfectly captures the essence that elevates this slow paced romance to the level of art. In the Mood for Love is the middle film of a trilogy of sorts that explores memory and melancholy; the other two are Days of Being Wild, made a decade earlier in 1990, and 2046, filmed in 2004. The melancholy vision of Wong Kar-wai is expressed in In the Mood for Love with finesse by actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung and is enhanced by the rich nostalgic canvases created by cinematographer Christopher Doyle and art director William Chang and a soundtrack that inventively blends a bittersweet score by Michael Galasso with traditional Chinese music, a haunting minuet by Shigeru Umebayashi and the silken vocals of Nat King Cole crooning in Spanish.
Frame after frame of this film presents exquisite canvases of Wong’s vision of Hong Kong in the early 1960s, with superlative compositions, camera movements and lighting; rich surfaces, layers and textures in the gorgeous set designs and beautiful costumes. The lead actors give spare, nuanced performances: Cheung’s filled with longing and grace and Leung’s all stoicism and cool.
A tale of blossoming friendship, desire and unrequited love, unfolding in a constricting, bustling environment, this film is very much about senses, emotions and mood. It is a visual and aural feast that distills emotions from the sparse dialogue and gestures of the cast and fills its apartments, offices, restaurants and streets with an atmosphere that lingers beyond the film’s closing credits. This is the type of movie you could hang on your wall.
This unofficial trailer features music from the film: Yumeji’s Theme by Shigeru Umebayashi.