Love and loneliness often walk hand-and-hand with one another, and it is impossible to fully appreciate one without the other. They are also concepts that break cultural boundaries, as seen in Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong 2000 film “In the Mood for Love.”
The film is set in 1962 in a Hong Kong apartment complex, when two tenants move in on the same day, both young married couples but all of them devoted to their work. The wife of one couple, Shu Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), and the husband of the other, Chow Mo-whan (Tony Leung), have jobs close to home, but their spouses’ careers lead them overseas to Japan, leaving them alone most nights in a town that doesn’t speak their language. Chow and Shu become friends and see a lot of each other, especially when their significant others are out of town an increasing amount. The two slowly begin to realize their spouses are out of town at the same time and piece together that they are having an affair with each other.
“In the Mood for Love” excels at creating an atmosphere of isolation and the need for companionship and understanding. Shu and Chow go about the same daily routine, avoiding contact with foreigners as much as possible, only to return to an empty tiny room to eat the same noodles, day in and day out. Their only comfort comes when they get to be with each other, as they talk about writing a script for a marital arts television program and their spouses. The two discuss having an affair of their own, but Shu becomes skittish and shuts down the moment romance is mentioned.
The film portrays Shu and Chow as being entirely alone in the world and are looking for some sort of acceptance in the world, but both are doing it in different ways – Chow wants to be with Shu, but Shu might hope to get back with her husband. It delves deep into the unspoken rules of marriage in China and Hong Kong and how society treats those who cheat and go through divorce, mostly through Maggie Cheung’s repressed emotions and reserved nature around Chow. She hates her husband for what he did, but she doesn’t want to be an outcast.
But I will remember “In the Mood for Love” for its color palette and cinematography. The colors are stylized yet tasteful, subtle yet bold, where every room, outfit and camera angle has an impact on an emotional level. From the billowing red curtains to a jade-green dress, the look of this film is breath-taking and supremely beautiful.
Overall, “In the Mood for Love” is a subtle, somber film about two lost souls longing for acceptance in different ways. It is deeply enriched in the customs of the Chinese culture and the diversity of Hong Kong in the 1960s, so be aware of the cultural differences. But if you ever see a Chinese film that doesn’t have to do with martial arts, be sure to check out “In the Mood for Love.”
Final Grade: B