Fa yeung nin wah

 (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong/France, 2000) 98 minutes


Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Producer: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle,
  Mark Lee Ping-bin
Editor: William Chang
Music: Michael Galasso
Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen - Mrs Chan)
Tony Leung (Chow Mo-wan)
Siu Ping-Lam (Ah Ping)
Rebecca Pan (Mrs Suen)
Kelly Lai Chen (Mr Ho)
Man-Lei Chan (Mr Koo)
Szu-Ying Chien (The Amah)

Reviews and notes

2000 Cannes, Edinburgh, Toronto, San Sebastián, Reykjavik, Pusan, Tokyo
2001 Los Angeles, New York, Mar del Plata, Wellington, Bangkok
2021 (4K restored version) Hong Kong

Hong Kong icons Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two of the most beautiful people on the planet, make such a natural pair that their unexplained attraction to each other can be simply accepted as a given. By fateful coincidence, they move into neighboring apartments in the same building on the same afternoon, soon discovering that their lives intersect in other, more significant ways. Neglected by their spouses, who are never seen, they foster a special kinship and spend a lot of time together, but social mores dictate that their relationship must be kept secret, even though it's strictly (if tenuously) platonic. Like other Wong films, In The Mood For Love captures the inherent alienation of city life, but in the process, he intensifies the romantic longing between the two characters. Their unrequited love, imposed by a society that subtly conspires to keep them apart, is so flush with emotion and possibility that it becomes the most vibrant shade in Wong's colorful palette. Further complemented by the gentle lull of Nat King Cole songs, In The Mood For Love casts a dreamy and melancholic spell that remains unbroken long after the closing credits have rolled.
– Scott Tobias, AV Club.

A year or so before Wong Kar-Wai began shooting In the Mood for Love, he answered a poll in the Village Voice about favourite film endings. Wong listed two: John Ford's The Searchers (1956) and Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse (1962). About the second he wrote: "A sequence of empty shots at the end of the film revisits many of the locations seen earlier. Suddenly, one realises this film is not about Monica Vitti or Alain Delon, but about the place they live in." Wong must already have been thinking about In the Mood for Love, in which two of the most charismatic actors in the world – Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung – are nearly upstaged by the wallpaper. But the place – Hong Kong in the early 6os as recreated in 1999, basically in Bangkok – is not so much the star of the film as the indispensable ground of its being.

Like all of Wong's films with the exception perhaps of Ashes of Time, In the Mood for Love has an exceptionally vivid sense of place. But here, what we might also call the landscape or the environment operates differently than in the three films Wong made in the mid 90s – Chungking Express, Fallen Angels and Happy Together. In those hyperkinetic works, the camera seems to be on a collision course with something that we know is the real world. Hong Kong or Buenos Aires is transformed into a uniquely filmic space in a way that only heightens their immediacy. Despite their eliptical, somewhat non-linear narratives, these are films cast in the present tense.

In the Mood for Love, on the other hand, is a memory piece. And unlike Wong's early film Days of Being Wild, which is also set in the early 6os, its subject is not the past, but rather the memory of the past and the rendering of that memory in film. An intertitle, placed between the main body of the film (the narrative of the extra-marital affair between Mr Chow and Mrs Chan) and the epilogue (in which Mr Chow, having lost track of Mrs Chan's whereabouts, visits Phnom Penh) reads: "That era is over, and everything that belongs to that era no longer exists." In other words, there is no going back to the place that Hong Kong was before the anti-colonial demonstrations of 1966 and no way the particular experience Mr Chow and Mrs Chan had with each other in that place at that time could ever happen again. Not just because the people are older and perhaps less vulnerable, but because the times themselves have changed.

Thus what we see on the screen is less the depiction of an extra-marital affair than of its remains as they are re-envisioned and fetishised in the mind's eye. The images are simultaneously more intimate and more distanced than in Wong's other films. The shots are brief and they often disappear from the screen before we can quite grasp the meaning of what we've seen. The connection between shots or between sequences of shots is eliptical in the extreme.

As always in Wong's films, movement is eroticised. But here, there's no rush, no dizzying climax to the movement. Instead, there is a more striking use of slow-motion images and of shots in which we see actors from behind as they move away from the camera's eye. In one emblematic shot, the camera hovers behind Maggie Cheung as she climbs the stairs to her apartment, her swaying hips sheathed in one of her many flowered cheongsams, her rice bucket dangling from her hand. The shot is repeated at least three times, each repetition accompanied by the same slow dissonant mazurka on the soundtrack. The music, the slo-mo, and the incongruity of the elegant dress and the clumsy rice bucket make the moment seem like a dream.

The elusive, erotically charged, dreamlike quality of the film as a whole is heightened by the way shots are framed so that we always seem to be looking through doors or windows or down corridors to see the action, such as it is. This layering of the image is expressive of the kind of layering which goes on within the characters. Drawn together when they discover their spouses are having an affair, Mr Chow and Mrs Chan disavow their own attraction to each other by playing a kind of game of acting out what they imagine Mr Chow's wife and Mrs Chan's husband do when they are together.

The film, thus, is not only a treatise on memory but also on the art of acting. What happens to Mr Chow and Mrs Chan is what happens to great actors when they have the experience of being simultaneously their real-life selves and the characters they're playing. And Cheung and Leung give the most subtle performances of their careers here. But this mixing of fantasy with a heightened sense of corporeality is also what
happens in any great love affair, which, recollected after the fact, leaves one wondering where the person one was then has gone.

At the end of the film, the fragile hothouse world that nurtured the affair has disappeared, and we are returned to ourselves and the real world of crumbling empires with a newsreel clip of de Gaulle visiting Cambodia, and then with the visit to the ruins of Angkor Wat, which will outlive all — not only the story of Mr Chow and Mrs Chan's love and loss but its memory as embodied in this exquisite, fragile film. In the Mood for Love ends with a title that speaks to its fetishistic quality: "The past is something he could see but not touch." It's not what's present in the image that makes us desire to see this film again and again, but rather, the absence that haunts it.
- Amy Taubin, Sight and Sound, November 2000.


The film is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. One of the most gorgeously photographed films in contemporary cinema, In the Mood for Love comes with an exquisite video presentation that doesn't disappoint. The source print is in excellent shape with only a few marginal specks here and there. A rich layer of grain is present throughout, giving the image a pleasing, filmic appearance. While certain shots can look a bit soft, overall clarity is nicely resolved, highlighting all of director and cinematographers' breathtaking compositions and dreamlike camera movements. The 60s period production design displays an immaculate attention to detail, and everything from props to sets and costumes are beautifully rendered. Colors are bold and moody, often bathing the screen in sensual hues. Maggie Cheung's intricately designed cheongsam dresses are particularly stunning, showcasing tiny patterns and sumptuous red, green, and blue tones that pop and dazzle. Contrast is well balanced with deep, inky black levels and solid shadow delineation. Famous for its striking cinematography, In the Mood for Love makes the leap to high-def in style. Wong Kar-Wai's sumptuous visuals are wonderfully preserved, and while the picture isn't razor sharp, the artistry behind the film's images is remarkable.

The audio is presented in a Cantonese/Shanghainese DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English subtitles. Delicate but filled with auditory texture, this is an exceptional mix that subtly draws the audience into the film's achingly romantic mood. Dialogue is clear and crisp throughout with no pops, crackles or background hissing. The soundstage is gentle but wide, carrying a restrained yet fully enveloping sense of immersion around the room. Tiny atmospheric effects like background chatter, typing, phones ringing, or falling rain are all naturally spread throughout the front and surround speakers, adding a rich sense of character to the film's modest settings. Of course, the real highlight here is the movie's beautiful score, and the songs and music selections come through with moving fidelity and strong separation. Dynamic range is wide, providing a healthy, distortion free gamut between low and high frequencies. The film's use of sound is just as important as its visuals, and this mix is full of gentle ambiance. Spacious and delicately layered, this is a strong audio track that complements the movie perfectly.
- Steven Cohen, High-Def Digest, 10 October 2012.

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