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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung
Director:  Wong Kar-Wai
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.0, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  March 5, 2002

“I didn’t think it would hurt so much.”

Film ***1/2

In the Mood for Love is about two lonely characters who are, but don’t do anything about it.  It’s a visually sumptuous and sad tale about choice and consequence…we’ll never know what might have happened if these people had chosen love over honor, and honor has its own price.

It stars two living legends of Asian cinema.  Mrs. Chan (Cheung, who you may recognize from Jackie Chan’s Police Story movies) and Mr. Chow (Leung) are thrown together in multiple ways.  Both happen to let apartments next door to each other, and both soon discover that their respective spouses are having an affair.

These spouses are never seen…they never exist in the picture more than as off camera voices or as backs of heads.  Their story might have been just another conventional illicit romance, but writer/director Wong Kar-Wai chooses to focus on the love story without consummation.  Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow develop a mutual attraction in their detached states, and would seem to have every reason in the world to take comfort in one another.  But they choose not to do what their mates have done.

The story unfolds as much in imagery as it does with dialogue.  Moments of expressed emotion when the characters don’t even face one another, for example, or better still, Kar-Wai’s constant use of frames within frames.  Notice how windows, doors, and other simple images constantly keep his characters trapped in smaller and smaller spaces.  When they venture outdoors at one point, we see them through the bars of a gate.  There are many different types of prisons, and a great deal of them are of our own making.

The feelings run deep, and seem to quietly increase in intensity because there is no release from them.  Hands that brush together in the back of the cab as both characters stare ahead sadly allows emotions to simmer but never come to a boil.  They place themselves in temptation’s way over and over again…Mr. Chow even invites Mrs. Chan to help with a serial he’s writing…but personal choices can eradicate the perfect settings.  Even when Mrs. Chan ends up trapped in Mr. Chow’s room for a few hours because his apartment owners come home early, they never do what they most want to do.

My favorite scene involves a different kind of emotional release.  We see Mrs. Chan confronting her husband about his mistress.  He denies at first, then consents.  She hits him weakly.  The camera changes position, and we see that it is NOT her husband, but Mr. Chow, who is helping her to rehearse her ultimate confrontation.  He encourages her to let her feelings out more when they play the scenario out again…very ironic.

Both Ms. Cheung and Mr. Leung do wonders with simply written characters.  They are experienced actors capable of channeling undercurrents of feeling while maintaining a more stoic outlook…both Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow are capable of playing cool, but without losing the fire in their eyes.

The real star of the picture has to be its look, however.  Crafted by Kar-Wai and photographed by Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-Bin, the film is a visual banquet of colors that express the emotions the characters will not, and geometry that conveys their helpless states as a result.  This is a beautiful movie to behold.

Kar-Wai has been one of Asia’s most influential filmmakers for the last decade.  In the Mood for Love proves both his courage to defy convention, an eye for detail, an ear for dialogue, and most importantly, a heart that feels for people who live in a sadness of their own creation.

Video ****

I’ve already mentioned the film’s incredible visual style, and Criterion captures it perfectly with a beautiful anamorphic transfer.  The movie is a cornucopia of colors, from the interior designs to the gorgeous dresses Maggie Cheung wears throughout, and this is a presentation that captures every subtle nuance with detail and integrity.  Even strongly contrasting schemes don’t bleed or distort against one another.  Images range from crisp and strong to softer and more subtle, depending on the mood and situation.  This is the kind of movie you can watch just for the visual pleasure, and the kind of DVD you’ll grab to show off how good DVD can be.

Audio ***1/2

You have a choice of original stereo or re-mixed 5.0 audio (no subwoofer signal)…the latter is definitely the better choice.  The stirring musical score gives an otherwise dialogue-oriented picture a superb amount of dynamic range, while the rear stage opens up several times for ambient sounds like crowd noises or weather effects.  Everything is cleanly presented with no noises or distortions…a good solid effort all the way.

Features ****

The extras are spread out across two disc.  Disc One features four deleted scenes, three of which have optional commentary by Kar-Wai, one of the director’s short films paying homage to the classic imagery from Chinese cinema through the years, and an interactive essay on the music, complete with cues from the film.

On Disc Two, you’ll find a 50 minute making-of documentary, featuring interviews with Kar-Wai, Cheung and Leung, and including a number of scenes that were not included in the movie (a memorable cooking sequence, and an amusing rock and roll dance number a la Pulp Fiction are the highlights).  There are also two interviews with Kar-Wai in English, a 45 minute press conference from the Toronto International Film Festival with stars Cheung and Leung, an essay by film scholar Gina Marchetti on Hong Kong in the 1960s, domestic and international trailers and TV spots, electronic press kit and promotional concepts, a photo gallery, and talent files of cast and crew with photos.

There is also a 48 page booklet containing the short story “Intersection” in its entirety, which was the inspiration for the film.


In the Mood for Love is a 180 degree turn from the kind of love story that rolls off of Hollywood’s assembly line season after season.  Here is a tale where the feelings are much more real and where the characters experience a sadness of their own crafting rather than having situations dictate it to them.  Superbly acted, wonderfully written and gorgeously filmed, this is a terrific treat for lovers of world cinema.