Sep. 27, 2011
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Grade: 88/100

Director: Kar Wai Wong
Stars: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Rebecca Pan

What it's about. Primarily set in Hong Kong in 1962. Two married couples, the Chows and Chans, become neighbors in a small apartment complex. Mr. Chan and Mrs. Chow, who are never shown on screen, begin an affair and leave their respective spouses, who suffer from humiliation and loneliness.

Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) form a close friendship that threatens to become a torrid affair. However, their relationship is constrained by their not wanting to replicate their spouses behavior. Also, Mrs. Chan values her honor and reputation, important to maintain her status with her boss Mr. Ho (Kelly Lai Chen) and her overly friendly landlord Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan).

Minor characters include socially inept dufus Ping (Ping Lam Siu), drunken Mahjong player Mr. Koo (Man-Lei Chan) and Mrs. Suen's devoted servant Amah (Tsi-Ang Chin).

How others will see it. This period romance received stacks of international film awards and nominations, although it was ignored by both the Golden Globes and Oscars. At the Hong Kong Film Festival, it received 12 nominations and five wins, including Best Actor and Actress for our leads.

The other three wins all went to William Chang for his meticulous costumes, art direction, and film editing. Per, Maggie Cheung wore dozens of dresses, and endured hours each day getting her hair and makeup perfected for filming. Cheung has an impossibly tall and slender figure, and her dresses are invariably sleeveless. Her bare arms much have seemed like a matador's cape to Mr. Chow in encouraging his hesitating pursuit.

At, the movie has a very large number of votes (30K) and extremely high user ratings, especially from viewers aged 18 to 44. Women over 45 give it a comparatively low 7.3 out of 10, perhaps disappointed that no blissful ending was achieved. Important story elements are vague and open to interpretation: did our would-be couple ever make love? Who is the father of Mrs. Chan's son?

How I felt about it. I have seen only one other Kar Wai Wong film: Chungking Express (1994), which I didn't particularly like. In the Mood for Love is much better, partly due to Maggie Cheung's screen presence of restrained, sad eroticism, and partly due to William Chang's sumptuous set and costume designs.

The truth is, the movie is much better than it should have been, given its threadbare script and simple story. Oddly, it reminds me of Easy Rider, in that the spirit it evokes is much greater than could have been anticipated by its synopsis. It is all about Mrs. Chan, a ripe open flower that attracts only a single bee, Mr. Chow, who hovers about but cannot land.

The movie is also, perhaps inadvertently, an indictment of Hong Kong's sexist society. Ah Ping can openly associate with prostitutes, and Mr. Ho can permanently juggle his wife and mistress, but condemnation for Mrs. Chan would come quickly if her liason with Mr. Chow became public knowledge.