In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa)

mood1More serene than the films that shaped Wong Kar-Wai’s early career, such as Chungking Express and Ashes of Time, this is an exquisite paean to the agony of repressed emotions and unrequited love. In the Mood for Love forms the second part of a loose trilogy, together with Days of Being Wild, and 2046, released in 2004. Set in the straight laced society of 1960s Hong Kong, the film focuses on two neighbours whose friendship deepens when they suspect their respective partners of having an extra-marital affair.

His name is Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung). Hers is Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). He is a journalist for one of the Hong Kong papers, she’s an executive assistant. Neither is wanting for money, as evinced by their elegant attire, but they frequently find themselves alone, despite living in a shared building where the neighbours play majong and gossip late into the night. Looking for company during the lonely evenings, the two of them meet for noodles at a local cafĂ©. When they discover their partners are cheating on them, Mr Chow and Ms Su vow to keep their own friendship pure. Interestingly, Wong chooses to keep the cheating couple off screen. Their adultery is tawdry and commonplace, while the reticence of the two leads lends their growing love for each other a sort of quixotic nobility.

Christopher Doyle’s camerawork is breathtaking. Featuring the lush, saturated colour palette of film noir, each shot becomes a work of art. The camera acts as a voyeur, capturing scenes through doors, windows, swirling cigarette smoke and the heavy monsoon rains. Whilst the main couple remain physically chaste, every movement is sexually charged. The rich embroidery of Ms Su’s tapered dresses takes on a magical, entrancing quality, framing her delicate, jaunty figure.

As Mr Chow and Ms Su struggle to come to terms with their lovers’ infidelity, they begin a bizarre game of play-acting imaginary scenes between their cheating spouses. When Su asks Chow “Do you have a mistress”, then weakly slaps him when he concedes “yes”, we assume at first she is referring to him. But it turns out she is “practising” for the terrible day when she must confront her husband with the truth of his affair.

Cheung and Leung, two of Hong Kong’s finest actors, are outstanding in their roles as the cuckolded couple, creating credible characters from scant dialogue and minimal plot. Indeed, Leung’s performance won him the Best Actor award at the 2000 Cannes Film festival, while Cheung received the Best Actress gong at the 2001 Hong Kong film awards.

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