(This is the 13th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)
Some films require a larger suspension of disbelief than others. In the Mood for Love may be one such film. The plot, whereby a man and woman discover that their respective spouses are having an affair, isn’t particularly far-fetched. But they are played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung, two of the best-looking actors in the world, and you can’t help wondering why anyone lucky enough to be married to them would have a roving eye.
In the Mood for Love is a perfect title for this movie. The two main characters are most definitely in the mood; they also don't ever get beyond being in the mood. Repressed emotions have rarely been so charged as they are here. While on one level, "nothing really happens," Wong Kar-wai does a great job of making us anticipate what is about to happen. Of course, our expectations go unfulfilled.
Cheung and Leung give exquisitely moderated performances. Wong asks for subtlety, and they supply it. They are perfectly in tune … they are gradually falling in love, but they can’t bring themselves to take the leap, because they don’t want to be like their cheating spouses. So we get lots of meaningful glances, and the dialogue is appropriately sparse, forcing us to read the faces of Leung and Cheung for clues (and they are so good, the clues are there).
The word “atmospheric” was made for Wong, who creates a world of cigarette smoke, rain, and cheongsams (Cheung wears a different one in every scene). As is usual, he effectively integrates music into his film, with the added quirkiness (also typical for Wong) of using Nat King Cole singing a song in Spanish (“Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”) in a Chinese movie set in 1962 Hong Kong.
Wong Kar-wai is one of the finest directors working today. His films are a mixed bag, but In the Mood for Love is his best. It’s the easiest one to recommend to someone new to his films, because it is perhaps his most traditional. But that means you haven’t really entered fully into Wong’s film vision, because you haven't seen his more unusual work.
Comments were limited to a brief discussion of Wong Kar-wai and which of his movies we hadn’t seen. Happily, Jeff Pike eventually saw In the Mood for Love for the first time, and liked it (“very nice!” is how he put it).