years after Comrades: Almost a Love Story,
Maggie Cheung once again starred as half of a not quite-romantic couple, whose
lives would be symbolized by romantic pop music. Unfortunately, Sinatra’s “Change
Partners” was not on either Su Li-zhen or Chow Mo-wan’s playlists when they
discover their respective spouses have been carrying on a secret affair. As
they struggle with this realization, they start to develop feelings for each
other. However, everything will conspire against a turnaround-is-fair-play
affair, most especially themselves in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (trailer here), one of the first
straight-up classics of the 2000s, which screens as part of the Metrograph’s
retrospective series Maggie Cheung:Center Stage.
Su (or Mrs. Chan, depending on the custom of those addressing her) and Chow
move into spare rooms in adjacent flats on the same day. Coincidentally, both
have been left by their partners to handle the move on their own. Renting rooms
in strangers’ flats might sound grim, but this is 1962 Hong Kong. Real estate
is just as scarce as it is now, but there was less wealth to drive development.
Nevertheless, many look back on this time with nostalgia, as a uniquely social
period in their lives, but for Su and Chow, it will be far more complicated.
Su’s husband and Chow’s wife travel abroad, which affords them ready alibis,
but also means their exclusive gifts for each other are tell-tale signs. Since
both betrayed spouses are intelligent professionals, they pick up on the clues
rather quickly, but they are unsure what to do about it. Meeting secretly, they
“rehearse” confrontations with their unfaithful partners are try to simulate
key moments in the affair, for the sake of their own understanding. They also
discover shared interests, including a fondness for wuxia novels. The audience
can tell they would be perfect together, but reserved early 1960s HK society
would not see it that way.
never directly shows us Mr. Chan or Mrs. Chow, only affording them voiceovers
and back-of-the-head shots, like Charlie in Charlie’s
Angels and Robin Masters in Magnum
P.I. It is a very effective strategy for controlling viewers’ perceptions
and emotions, but we can’t help wondering what do these people look like that
they could tempt their lovers into cheating on Maggie Cheung and “Little” Tony
Leung Chiu Wai? Seriously, together they make one undeniably photogenic couple.
Mood is an achingly romantic film,
but it has a decidedly dark edge. Su and Chow are the aggrieved parties, but
they do not necessarily always act with the best of intentions. They are both
inclined to brood, yet we still cannot help wanting to see finally consummate
always makes it clear how the confined spaces and nosy neighbors constantly
undermine their forbidden feelings for each other. He regularly frames his
co-leads through cramped passage ways and narrow doorways, powerfully evoking a
sense of claustrophobia. He also crafts some arresting images in the process.
Frankly, Mood is one of a precious
few films, whose dazzling auteurist style actually brings us into the hearts
and head-spaces of its characters, rather than keeping viewers on the outside
terms of chemistry, Cheung and Leung are just stunning together. Reportedly, Mood and Comrades are two of a handful of films that really mean something
personal to Cheung, which will make perfect sense to viewers judging from what
is on the screen. They both give career-defining performances, but Rebecca Pan
humanizes the messy situation even further as Mrs. Suen, Su’s well-intentioned
but conservative mahjong-playing land lady.
Thanks to the stylistically dissimilar yet
somehow consistently compatible cinematography of Christopher Doyle and Mark
Lee Ping Bing (not to mention Cheung’s elegant cheongsam wardrobe), Mood always looks absolutely beautiful. The
exquisitely sentimental love songs of Zhou Xuan, Nat King Cole, and traditional
Cantonese Opera also make it sound wonderfully old-fashioned. It is easily one
of the best films of 2000 (with its only real competition coming from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Very
highly recommended, In the Mood for Love screens
this Sunday (12/18) and Wednesday (12/21) at the Metrograph, as part of Maggie Cheung: Center Stage.
Labels: Hong Kong Cinema, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung at Metrograph, Tony Leung, Wong Kar Wai