In the Mood for Love (Hua yang nian hua) [DVD]
Screenplay : Wong Kar-Wai
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Maggie Cheung Man-yuk (Su Li-zhen), Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Chow Mo-wan), Siu Ping-lam (Ah Ping), Rebecca Pan (Mrs. Suen), Lai Chin (Mr. Ho), Chin Tsi-ang (Amah)
Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (Hua yang nian hua) is an elegant, poetic exploration of romantic yearning, repressed emotions, and the age-old conflict between tradition-bound behavior and emotional longings.
Set in Hong Kong in the early 1960s, In the Mood for Love tells a densely layered textured, but seemingly simple, story of two neighbors who form an emotional bond when they learn that their respective spouses are having an affair. Discarding his previous aesthetic tendencies toward hyperkinetic editing, use of different film stocks, and telling multiple, sometimes disconnected, narratives, Wong instead adopts a style of simple visual elegance—graceful camera movements, low angles, slow motion, and an astounding use of hyperealized colors and exquisite compositions—to tell his story, which is both intricately bound to its historical place and time, but also universal in the emotions it evokes.
Maggie Cheung Man-yuk stars as Su Li-zhen, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai stars as Chow Mo-wan, the two neighbors who sublet rooms in an apartment building and happen to move in on the same day. Early on, it is important to understand the sense of community the film builds; the setting in Hong Kong in 1962 with characters that are primarily émigrés from Shanghai is crucial to how the film works. This was a time and place in which front doors were constantly open, neighbors ate dinner together, and it wasn't uncommon for a young married couple to rent one room in a larger apartment shared by another family.
The early passages of the film are built out of small fragments that begin to coalesce into the painful realization that Su Li-zhen's husband and Chow Mo-wan's wife are having an affair. We never see the cheating spouses; they exist entirely as off-screen voices, with a few brief glimpses of the backs of their heads and shoulders. They are not so much characters as they are catalysts. We understand Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan's respective emotional devastation purely by their responses, which puts an immense load on Cheung and Leung's shoulders. Both being accomplished, subtle actors, they convey the film's emotional resonance beautifully, drawing us into their pain, confusion, loneliness, and, ultimately, attraction to each other.
Wong Kar-Wai builds the emotional power in this chamber piece out of not only his two lead actors, but also by carefully controlling the mise-en-scène and cinematography, turning In the Mood for Love into an intricately orchestrated visual meditation on the primary themes of love and loss. Working closely with production designer William Chang Suk-piang and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (who replaced Mark Li Ping-bin after production had already began), Wong makes brilliant use of intensely saturated primary colors and dark shadows, costumes, and props to maintain focus on the emotional core of the story. There is a constant tension in the film between culturally dictated decorum and the irrepressible urgings of the human heart, which is embodied quite beautifully in Su Li-zhen's costumes, which consist entirely of cheon sam, high-necked, form-fitting dresses that are a cross-cultural product of both Asian and Western influences, traditional, yet undeniably erotic.
Something so simple as a metal bucket that Su Li-zhen takes with her to the corner noodle stand for dinner each night slowly develops into a heartbreaking symbol of her loneliness and isolation, even though she is constantly surrounded by people. At the same time, Wong also makes powerful use of physical isolation within the frame, allowing his slowly tracking camera to discover Chow Mo-wan alone against a wall, smoking a cigarette, but secretly waiting for Su Li-zhen. The characters are also often trapped within frames—windows, doorways, and so forth—that make visual the sense of entrapment they feel in their lives. The film is replete with subtle camera movements that keep the characters slightly off-center, and pensive shots of long, empty corridors. When Wong uses a swish pan several times during a crucial conversation, it is shocking in the way it deviates from the previously established slow and contemplative tone, and it underscores the urgency of what is being discussed at that moment in a powerful and unexpected way.
For all its visual power, In the Mood for Love is also a striking example of how both diegetic and nondiegetic music can be used to underscore the film's meaning. Wong borrows a beautifully haunting waltz from Japanese director Seijun's Suzuki's 1991 film Yumeji and uses it as an aural motif whenever Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan's paths cross; after they realize what is happening between their spouses, it marks the moments in which their intimacy grows. He also has a wide array of period music, from Chinese operettas to imported Western tunes by the likes of Nat King Cole, playing constantly in the background, reminding us of the cross-cultural winds flowing throughout Hong Kong during this crucial period.
Yet, for all its visual and aural depth and complexity, what ultimately grabs you in In the Mood for Love is its intimacy and its emotional honesty. Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan go through a range of emotions and responses, beginning with tentative conversations that allude to what they both know, but find hard to admit, to near-masochistic recreations of how their spouses likely met, to quiet evenings spent together in which they pledge "not to be like them," but find it impossible to fully repress the nagging in their hearts.
The last third of the film opens up in terms of both time and space, leaping forward several years at a time and taking us to different location, including Angkor-Wat, the crumbling 12th-century shrine in Cambodia, where Chow Mo-wan whispers his broken heart into a crevice and plugs it with dirt, as he knows ancient people once did. And, like Chow Mo-wan, those ancient people knew the pains of heartbreak and loss and the never-ending questions about what might have been had circumstances been different. Wong Kar-Wai captures all of that here, in what is certainly his best film.
|In the Mood for Love Criterion Collection Special Edition Double-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.0 surround|
Dolby 2.0 surround
Isolated music and effects track
|Supplements|| Deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Wong Kar-Wai|
Interactive essay on the music
Hua yang de nian hua short film by Wong Kar-Wai
@ In the Mood for Love making-of documentary by Wong Kar-Wai
Two video interviews with Wong Kar-Wai at the Cannes Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival press conference with stars Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Tony Leung Chiu-wai
Illustrated essay by Gina Marchetti on the film's cultural context
2 theatrical trailers
4 TV spots
International poster gallery
Galley of unused art concepts
Electronic press kit
Illustrated biography and filmography of Wong Kar-Wai
Cast and crew biographies and filmographies
48-page booklet including the short story "Intersection," liner notes by film critic Li Cheuk-to, and a director's statement
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 5, 2002|
|Transferred in anamorphic widescreen in its intended 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio from the 35mm interpositive, In the Mood for Love absolutely radiates off the screen. This film's visual beauty has to be seen to be fully appreciated, and short of seeing it in a pristine 35mm print, this Criterion DVD is the best way to go. The gorgeous use of intense primary colors—red and greens and yellows—is flawlessly presented with strong saturation that resist blooming and bleeding. The image is sharp and detailed, with excellent shadow detail and a complete lack of any artifacts. It is good to see Criterion getting the rights to more contemporary films to add to its collection of international classics, especially when the presentation is so impressive.|
|The soundtrack is presented in either Dolby Digital 5.0 surround or Dolby 2.0 surround. The 5.0 mix, despite missing the discrete low-frequency effects channel, is marvelous. Umebayashi Shigeru 's haunting waltz is rich and resonant, as it should be, and the surround channels are excellent in creating a bustling ambiance, whether that be the sounds of neighbors talking through the walls in the apartment building or the echoes of a rainstorm. For full appreciate of the score and sound effects, this disc also offers an isolated music and effects track.|
| It's not hard to see why USA Films decided to license the DVD release of In the Mood for Love to the folks at Criterion, as they have put together a comprehensive two-disc special edition that gives elaborate background detail to both the film's troubled two-year production and the career of Wong Kar-Wai, who has quickly become one of the most influential directors to emerge out of Asia in years. |
In addition to the film itself, the first disc contains four deleted scenes, all of which are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen (oddly, they all seem to be matted at different aspect ratios) and three of which offer optional audio commentary by Wong Kar-Wai. It is well known that In the Mood for Love was a long, troubled production in which the focus of the narrative itself shifted quite often, and these deleted scenes bear that out. All of these scenes are actually better described as extended versions of sequences that exist in the final cut of the film, but the additional material completely changes the context of what happens (for instance, in one of the deleted scenes, it is made clear that Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan make love, which obviously alters the theme of the film). The accompanying audio commentary is a bit of a let-down, mainly because it is so sparse. Wong speaks in Cantonense, which means that his commentary can only be inserted where there is no dialogue in the scene due to space for the subtitles.
The first disc also includes an informative interactive essay by Joanna Lee, in which she discusses in detail the cultural and historical influences found in the film's musical selections (for instance, why Nat King Cole is so predominant on the soundtrack, something that baffled many critics who were not aware of Cole's and other Western singers' popularity in Hong Kong in the 1960s). Throughout the essay are prompts that offer you the option of going directly to the portion of the film that features the music being discussed. In addition to the essay, there is also a statement by Michael Galasso, composer of the film's "Angkor-Wat Theme" and a statement by Wong Kar-Wai.
Lastly, the first disc contains Hua yang de nian hua, a short compilation film by Wong Kar-Wai that assembles scratchy fragments of old Hong Kong movies in a two-and-a-half-minute tribute to Chinese cinema and the power of the human face. Included along with the film is a brief set of press notes that explain Wong's purpose behind making it.
A good place to start on the second disc is @ In the Mood for Love, a making-of documentary by Wong Kar-Wai. Running 51 minutes in length, it is a candid look at the production process, featuring interview with Wong and several of the lead actors. There is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as bits of even more deleted scenes beyond what is included on the first disc, including a rather amusing "dance sequence" that obviously would not have worked in the finished film at all. Along with those deleted scenes, @ In the Mood for Love gives the impression of just how different this film could have ended up (at one point, Tony Leung states that, when production began, the film was "naughty" and "erotic").
More information about the film's production can be had from two extensive interviews with Wong Kar-Wai, both of which were conducted at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. The first was a sit-down video interview conducted by film critics Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret that runs 22 minutes, while the second is a press-conference-like setting hosted by Gilles Cinement that runs just under 16 minutes. Both interviews are conducted entirely in English, which Wong speaks very well. Also included is coverage of the press conference at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival moderated by Robert Gray. While Wong is not in attendance, the film's two lead actors field diverse questions (many of which, naturally, relate to acting and working with Wong) for close to 45 minutes.
A great deal of cultural and historical information is available in film scholar Gina Marchetti's excellent illustrated essay, "Hong Kong, 1960s," which provides an invaluable understanding of the time and place in which the film is set and how richly the story interacts with those elements. Discussing everything from the use of Shanghaiese, to the details of cultural displacement felt by many residents of Hong Kong, to the cultural meanings of the cheon sam (which includes a revealing video clip of a tailor taking measurements to make the form-fitting dress), this essay is a must-read, particularly for any Westerner who wants to fully appreciate what is on-screen. (In fact, for anyone not familiar with this area, I recommend reading this essay before watching the film.)
The section of promotional materials is divided into four subsections: The "Unused Art and Concepts" gallery includes 19 images of discarded art and poster ideas. The "Posters" gallery includes eight international one-sheets. The "TV spots and Trailers" section includes two Hong Kong TV spots, a U.S. TV spot, a French TV spot, and U.S. and French theatrical trailers. The electronic press kit is a standard promotional featurette that runs about 18 minutes and includes scenes from the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with the principle cast and Wong Kar-Wai (as all the interviews are in English, this was obviously the press kit intended for Western countries). As with the deleted scenes on the first disc, the clips from the film in this featurette are matted differently than the theatrical presentation, with the aspect ratio looking close to 2.35:1, rather than 1.66:1.
A three-part photo gallery—divided thematically into "Anticipation," "Intersection," and "Memories"—contains over 60 gorgeous color production stills, several of which come from scenes that do not appear in the final cut of the film.
Divided into seven sections, The Searcher: Wong Kar-Wai is an extensive and thorough biography and filmography of the director, which includes numerous photographs and illustrations. While not nearly as extensive, the disc also includes biographies and filmographies of the film's key cast members (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Rebecca Pan, Lai Chin, Siu Ping-lam, and Chin Tsi-ang) and crew members (cinematographer Christopher Doyle, production designer William Chang Suk-ping, and composers Michael Galasson and Umebayashi Shigeru, who composed the love theme that was borrowed from Yumeji).
Lastly, this two-disc set includes a 48-page insert booklet with liner notes and a director's statement in addition to the entire text of Liu Yi-chang's short story "Intersection," which significantly influenced the film.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick