by Chris Connor
With Wong Kar Wai’s repertoire being streamed in 4k via BFI player this month and with a Criterion boxset of his work on its way, it seems an apt time to revisit what remains for many his quintessential work, 2000’s In The Mood For Love. An unorthodox romance set in early 1960s Hong Kong, it has won high levels of praise in the two decades since its release, coming second in the BBC’s 2016 list of the best films of the 2000s and featuring in Empire Magazine’s 100 Best Foreign Films list.
The film manages to cover a layered and unorthodox story in just 98 minutes, with the focus remaining almost entirely on Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr Chow (Tony Leung) as their lives interweave from the start of the film, beginning as neighbours. The two suspect their respective partners are having an affair and so a close bond forms out of this suspicion between the pair. While this is a love story of sorts it plays out more in the vein of Cold War than many other romantic films over the years and this is refreshing and eye opening.
The attention to period detail makes this a thoroughly believable and completely immersive visit to early 1960s Hong Kong as we smell the food from the markets the pair visits and bask in the smoky atmosphere. A particular shot of lingering cigarette smoke is particularly breath-taking but the whole film is nothing short of spectacular from a cinematography perspective. The costume and production design are also nothing short of exemplary. Stunning cinematography has become a hallmark of Wong Kar Wai’s work with Chungking Express and Fallen Angels also marked out for their visuals.
The score is unusual but has a profound affect with the constant use of the bewitching Yumeji’s theme from the film of the same name suits the film to perfection with its gorgeous strings as does the use of a series of Portuguese Nat King Cole songs, which may seem unorthodox on paper but works faultlessly within the context of the film.
The performances from Cheung and Leung carry the whole film delivering pathos and empathy and bringing incredible chemistry. With so much of the film’s success hinging on its two leads they are truly terrific, showing the evolving nature of the pairs relationship as they ache for something more from it that both know may not be possible and this makes the audience long for pair to be happy.
Well worthy of its now iconic status In The Mood For Love is an achingly beautiful film in many regards with some astonishing visuals and colour palettes and wonderful attention to detail it is utterly beguiling to behold. A further six of Wong Kar Wai’s films are available to stream as part of the BFI’s season including Chungking Express and 2046. It is not hard to see that many films have gone on to be influenced by In The Mood For Love, Cold War and Lost In Translation to name but two. The film’s legacy will no doubt continue to grow in the years to come, it is a cinematic masterpiece worthy of every ounce of praise heaped upon it.
In The Mood for Love and other Wong Kar Wai’s films are available on BFI iPlayer now.