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In the Mood for Love

Wong Kar-wai, The Hong Kong directing idol known for melodic, unconventional art films rather than the kung-fu action flicks that this city usually produces, has outdone himself with his latest creation, In the Mood for Love. Just as aromatherapy stimulates the olfactory senses, this movie rouses the eyes and ears; the images and sensual camerawork will seduce you while the music will charm you.

In the Mood for Love is similar to Kar-wai's other films which all seem to ruminate upon the loss and joy of unfulfilled love. The opening text states, "it is a restless moment." Indeed it is--the story spans Asia, hopping between Singapore, Cambodia and Hong Kong, but centers around the latter during the sixties. The Audrey Hepburn-like Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) is a coifed, elegant and vulnerable beauty living a lonely life. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung who also starred in Kar-wai's Chungking Express [1994] and Happy Together [1997]) is a handsome, quiet journalist swathed in tailored suits who also lives a lonely life. They move into adjoining apartments but--surprise, surprise--both of their spouses are perpetually away on "business." At one point, Mrs. Chan confronts her neighbor, "Do you really know your wife?" she asks. He keeps silent. In fact, you never actually see their significant others; you only glimpse the back of their heads and hear their voices in off-screen conversations. This creates an uneasy dynamic in which their physical presence is belittled while at the same time their hold on their spouses' lives increases.

The movie explores the fragility of the first moments of love--the first time you hold a lover's hand, the moment you begin waiting for their phone calls, the nervousness of surrender--and you feel every little tingle and sigh. What makes this film so exquisite is its cinematography and its relationship to the music. The camerawork of Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bin couples an original score by composer Michael Galasso and features pieces by Umebayashi Shigeru. The cinematography caresses the actors' (particularly Cheung's) every move, trailing each sway of the hip and turn of the head. The music accompanies the images as if in a dance, a choreographed tango, emphasizing the actors' expressions.

Mrs. Chan states, "You notice things if you pay attention." This movie definitely has the same attitude. It doesn't miss a single detail; the lens captures delicate things like a hand brushing a doorframe and eyes flirting. Like the sideways glance of a lover, the camera seems to spy a glimpse of their sweethearts at their most vulnerable and unaware moments. The characters are shot with exacting precision; they are framed through doorways, windows, alleys, and stairwells, which is a beautiful yet tragic tactic. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are encased in the polite society of drawing rooms and public spaces and therefore confined.

In the Mood for Love moves fairly quickly and time flits by in the shadows of stairwells and offices. The two characters do a lot of melancholy loafing akin to the behavior of two people in love. They have a quirky, endearing chemistry that is at its most prominent when they are engaged in rehearsal break-ups. The scenes in a diner, where they first begin their attempt at an affair, will enthrall you as each tries to emulate the other's spouse, and the camerawork is so controlled and skillful that a mundane act like eating meat is made beautiful and appealing. In the Mood for Love is like drinking a glass of good red wine; it will give you a hazy, warm glow that you won't soon forget.

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In The Mood For Love
Rated PG
1 hour 37 minutes

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Lai Chen
Maggie Cheung
Rebecca Pan