All posts by Hadley

Hadley was born in and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She has one brother and two dogs. She dislikes writing about herself in the third person and being from a state associated with Jan Brewer.

In The Mood for Love

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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.

 

A Time to Live and A Time to Die

movie-a-time-to-live-a-time-to-die-by-hou-hsiao-hsien-s2-mask9A Time to Live and A Time to Die follows Ah-hsiao (nicknamed Ah-ha) and his family as they adapt to a new life in Taiwan. The film is the second installment in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s coming-of-age trilogy. Released in 1985, A Time to Live and A Time to Die won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1986 Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Non-American/Non-European Film Award at the 1987 Rotterdam International Film Festival. The film’s international accolades reflect the mesmerizing cinematography and understated directorial ability of Hsiao-Hsien.

The film begins in 1947 after Ah-ha’s family moves to Taiwan from mainland China. The semi-autobiographical A Time to Live and A Time to Die draws from Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s own relocation and upbringing in Taiwan. Ah-ha, a reflection of Hou, represents the first generation of children raised in Taiwan by Chinese immigrants. In the 1940’s, the Chinese Civil War split the country into two opposing factions, the Communists and the KMT Nationalists. Those who sided with the KMT fled to Taiwan after the Communist Party of China gained control of the mainland. Taiwan’s political histories, both the lingering Japanese influence on the island and the Chinese Civil War, never overwhelm the film. Rather, Hou Hsiao-Hsien hints at the Japanese occupation and Nationalist Party control. The camera holds a shot of tank tracks in the mud. The family as listens to planes fly over their home at night. Military horses gallop across the background of a scene. Although national history sets the stage, Ah-ha’s family history takes the foreground.

A Time to Live and A Time to Die examines filial duty, youth and death in a family removed from their homeland and cultural traditions. Hou’s experimental style avoids approaching these topics with melodrama. The characters in the film, many of whom were not trained actors, breathe believability into their roles. Much like De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, A Time to Live and A Time to Die utilizes realism for a strong emotional payoff. Ah-ha, his grandmother, his neighborhood, and his friends all become palpable. We feel as though we know these people and places. The acting never feels forced. In this aspect, the film borders on documentary.

The lush, tranquil setting of A Time to Live and A Time to Die sanctions the slow pacing of the film. 138 minutes long, the film takes its time telling Ah-ha’s story. For many, the length may be a turn off, but the pacing respects the defining moments of Ah-ha’s childhood. When Ah-ha and his grandmother walk through the thick vegetation of the Taiwanese village, we watch his grandmother long for the old country. In one scene, she asks a stranger for directions but the woman speaks a different dialect of Chinese. In this moment, we are presented with Taiwan’s disjointed society.

Unlike his parents and grandmother, Ah-ha most forge a new culture from the remnants. As he grows older, Ah-ha must explore sexuality and filial duty on his own. He joins a street gang but continues to care for his ill mother and grandmother. He and his friends act against authority with displays of hyper-masculinity. They start brawls in pool halls and beat up classmates. The first generation of mainland Chinese settled in Taiwan, Ah-ha and his siblings must navigate unfamiliar waters. In the transition, the institutions of education and family lose authority but not importance.

Understated and slow, A Time to Live and A Time to Die examines suffering, identity, and youth with a careful eye. The film does not deliver extreme violence or passionate kisses punctuated with fireworks, but Hou Hsiao-Hsien does not disappoint. We are allowed to watch a family’s most intimate moments. We witness the sadness and joy that define their lives. A Time to Live and A Time to Die is an unsentimental study of youth that leaves the viewer emotionally fulfilled.