In The Mood for Love (2000) examines the relationship of two next-door-neighbors brought together by their unfaithful spouses. The Chinese title of the film 花樣年華 means “the age of blossoms” and refers to transience of youth and a nostalgia for the past. In 2000, the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is the second installment in Wong Kar-wai’s (sort of) trilogy with Days of Being Wild (1991) and 2046 (2004).
Set in 1960’s Hong Kong, Wong Kar-wai creates a world lush with nostalgia. Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) are always impeccably dressed and mannered. They are the glossy figures lifted from a Lucky Strike print ad. Yet despite their beauty, the main characters suffer from stifling loneliness. Although they live in an apartment teeming with people, they often eat alone. Both Chan and Chow’s spouses remain curiously absent from the film. The viewer only sees the back of Mrs. Chow’s head and hears Mr. Chan’s voice. Their absence becomes enhanced when we learn of Mr. Chan and Mrs. Chow’s affair.
Affairs, along with nostalgia, become repeated themes in the film. Wong Kar-wai seems fascinated by the simultaneously vivid and murky quality of memory. While the film drips with rich reds and sparkling golds, it often frames its characters in an unusual manner. Wong remembers the romantic panache of the 60s but also its societal constrictions. Mrs. Chan works as a secretary for a shipping company. Dressed in a stunning floral cheongsam, her delicate neck wrapped in fabric, she must arrange her boss’ dinners with both his wife and mistress. Mrs. Chan, a wife who has recently learned of her husband’s own infidelity, must aide in another man’s deceit.
In In The Mood for Love, Wong often pairs beauty with sadness, the shinning facade of nostalgia with its dark underbelly. In one scene, Maggie Cheung’s character leaves the neighborhood noodle shop and a mint green thermos swings in her manicured hands. The scene moves in slow motion, lingering on her figure as it ascends the stairs. For a moment we are transfixed by her perfection. Then the camera shows the crumbling walls of the shop. We remember why Mrs. Chan eats alone each night. When the shot changes to Mr. Chow, we watch him eat dumplings, his dark hair slicked into place, but he too eats unaccompanied. On the surface, the viewer sees two attractive people, but inches below are two spouses abandoned by their other halves. When they walk past one another, the camera frames Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan in the decrepit corridor.
In The Mood for Love gives its viewers both beauty and substance. The cinematography and soundtrack overwhelm with their exceptionality. Wong awakens in his viewers a sense of nostalgia. We yearn for the polished sophistication of the 60s even if we never lived through it. We yearn for lovers never lost. In The Mood for Love moves slowly and deliberately, but the patient viewer is greatly rewarded.