For some reason lately I have not really been into Asian films. I go through these stages where I become obsessive about one film movement, one film region or one film decade and just gouge myself on these films until I need to move onto to something else for both my and my boyfriend’s sanity. This happened to me with Asian films a couple of years ago. I didn’t care from what decade, what specific country, or what genre it came from, I had to watch it. Along the way I discovered some stinkers and some masterpieces. I also developed a long-term relationship with some fantastic directors. One of those directors is Wong Kar-Wai and his masterpiece is undoubtedly In the Mood for Love.
This is one in a handful of others that sparked my obsession and love for film. I remember watching it in my parents’ moldy basement late night glued to the screen. I had recently discovered that film can be and is art (a revelation that I knew intellectually but did not know emotionally if you understand where I am coming from) and I was gorging myself on every foreign, old (with the help of TCM… i love that channel!), and independent film I can get my hands on. However I paused when I found this film. I found what I was looking for: an emotional masterpiece about the complexities of love. A truly unique exploration of what I had yet to feel. I feel embarrassed to tell you this but I cried when I found this film, not just because of the story but because I found a treasure chest full of awesome. At the time I could not put into words why I had cried, why I felt the need to watch this film over and over again, or why I needed to find out everything that went on in the making of the film and how every shot was achieved. I just knew that I loved it.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me just tell you about the plot of the film. It is about a man and a woman in post war Beijing. They live near each other in the same apartment building and they are each married to someone else. However their spouses seem to never be there with them. They are stuck in this lonesome city all alone. The woman, played wonderfully by Maggie Cheung, and the man, played awesomely by Tony Leung, discover that their spouses are having an affair with each other. They are both devastated, but at the same time pulled together by this revelation. Leung coaches Maggie’s character to confront her husband but she cannot control herself and breaks down in his arms. They both long to be with each other but can’t quite pull it off. They don’t want to be like their spouses. Through a series of missed opportunities they finally leave and go their separate ways never to see each other again. This synopsis does no justice to the emotions and subtext of the film.
The subtlety of the film is breathtaking. With just a look, a gesture, a lonesome cigarette smoke, the film tells so much about these two characters. You barely see their spouses, just hints of his wife’s hair and her husband’s suit. The film does not care about the spouses, it is merely a mcguffin to pull these two characters together in their grief. The looping soundtrack adds focus to the emotions conveyed by the actions of the characters. I love Wong Kar-Wai’s use of Nat King Cole, old Asian standards and the score. The costumes, especially Maggie Cheung’s dresses are spot on. It is just such a beautiful film to look at and experience.
Many people may disagree with me when I say that this is a masterpiece, but I stick by that statement. I hope this film becomes an essential part of film history not just for the films and television that it inspired but because it was such a great demonstration of conveying of love in subtle ways. There are no grand speeches, no obvious images, no steamy sex scenes. There is just two people walking past each other on their way to get rice.