She has kept her head lowered,
To give him a chance to come closer.
Be he could not, for lack of courage,
She turns and walks away.
From these opening intertitles, In the Mood for Love sweeps you up in a celebration of the poetry and passion of cinema. Wong Kar-Wai’s astonishingly beautiful film whisks you back to his childhood years in Hong Kong’s Shanghainese community, where he sets the exquisite love story between Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung). These two hardworking, married people move in next door to each other on the same day, and although Wong Kar-Wai never shows their spouses’ faces, evidence of an affair soon casts the cuckolded pair together. They begin meeting, initially seeking answers and solace, but ultimately the mood inches, irrevocably, towards love.
This film is a master class in melodrama. That term is so often steeped in negative connotations, but in the hands of Wong Kar-Wai and his Australian director of photography Christopher Doyle (working alongside Mark Li Ping-bing), melodrama becomes something entrancing and utterly unforgettable. I defy anyone who has seen In the Mood for Love not to instantly recall Maggie Cheung’s balletic grace in the jaw-dropping array of cheongsam, or those swaying, blood red curtains of the hotel hallway, or that song ('Yumeji's Theme'), which conveys all the loneliness and longing and the protagonists can’t themselves express.
These are but a few examples of how In the Mood for Love opened up the world of cinema to me. I had grown up loving movies, and probably even considered myself a film buff, but after watching this as part of a university Film Studies course, it all clicked into place. Everything my professor had been trying to impress upon us about time, restraint, theme and mise-en-scène finally coalesced in my mind in such a palpable, powerful way; I can still remember the tingling awe. I got it, and what’s more, I was hooked. Indeed this film was like my gateway drug for world cinema, and riding high I was emboldened to go back and watch the cinematic greats, but now not merely as an intellectual exercise, but as a cinephile.
Revisiting In the Mood for Love recently, I was pleased to find it had lost none of its magical hold on me. If anything, the superlative craftsmanship fell on more appreciative, experienced eyes, while the perfectly tuned performances and resonant themes hit home with a (slightly!) older and wiser soul. This time, however, Yumenji’s Theme didn’t wholly dominate my sonic experience; instead Wong Kar-Wai’s devastating use of silence rung loudly in my ears, as did Nat ‘King’ Cole’s poignantly suggestive 'Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.'
‘Perhaps’ has never held such heart-rending and captivating possibility. Although it strikes me that, for a cinephile, this ‘perhaps’ is what accompanies us every time we wend our way down long corridors and settle into dark cinemas. It is a restless moment; that tantalising promise of beauty, artistry, transcendence.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.