Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” (2000) must be one of the most searingly beautiful and subtly devastating movies ever made. It’s likely the most famous of Wong’s movies as the master of Hong Kong Second Wave Cinema. Quiet passion and word’s left unsaid are set against vibrant, blood red tones, slow motion cinematography and a slow burning soundtrack. This is Wong’s vision of Hong Kong in the early 60s. His leads—Maggie Cheung as Mrs. Chan and Tony Leung as Mr. Chow—share a mutual interest in understanding the nature of their cheating spouses’ relationship. In going through the imagined motions their partners’ infidelity, they fall in love.
The lithesome Maggie Cheung practically floats between the cramped tenement where she lives, populated by noisy and nosy neighbours, and the noodle stall where she regularly takes her meals alone. Costume designer William Chang Suk-ping has her bound in razor-sharp tailored cheongsams of various patterns and colors. Her hair is styled with extreme care. Her lip lines are never smudged. In this way Mrs. Chan embodies the films tightly bound restraint that papers over great emotional turmoil. The contrast between her intense poise and grace with such poignant suffering all but stings the viewer. So much of what goes unsaid in “In the Mood for Love” verges on exploding through visual cues like these. Each gesture, movement and suggestion is deliberate and wrapped in intense ambiguity, intense melancholy and intense longing that is never fulfilled. “In the Mood for Love” sounds devastating because it is, but its pain is enveloped in a kind of visual and technical beauty rarely seen.
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