It was about two years ago when my perception of cinema was completely changed, when I saw a film that broke the boundaries of what a film could make one feel. The film was Chungking Express, a bizarre and brilliant masterpiece of cinema. The mind behind that film was Wong Kar-Wai, a filmmaker who has a vision and talent that is very rarely ever seen in contemporary filmmakers. It is unfortunate that the general view of the public is that Asian cinema is constricted to martial arts films and badly dubbed ninja movies, when in fact there has been an absolutely stellar Asian cinema movement since the invention of cinema. Yasujirō Ozu and Akira Kurosawa are perhaps the greatest Asian filmmakers of all time, and it goes without saying that Wong Kar-Wai is on the same level as them in regards to his unique visual style, his brilliance in choosing unique and compelling stories to put on the screen and his overall talent at crafting these emotionally resonant and heartwrenchingly beautiful films.
In the Mood for Love is considered one of the greatest films of all time. I understand why it is – it is filmed beautifully, has a pair of fantastic lead performances, has a heartbreaking story, which is told through a series of emotionally brilliant and powerful moments. However, it still goes without saying that as brilliant as In the Mood for Love is, it is nothing compared to Chungking Express. That was the major disadvantage, because having adored Chungking Express, I couldn’t quite detach the two films from one another, and everything that In the Mood for Love does well was done in a far superior manner in Chungking Express. However, it is never a good idea to compare two films, especially from the same filmmaker, so it was possible to find many original and brilliant elements in In the Mood for Love that allowed it to stand on its own merits as a great film.
At the centre of In the Mood for Love are two monumental performances. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are absolutely breathtaking as the two lonely people who become friends. Leung is perhaps the best of the duo, as he gives a sensitive, quiet performance that compliments his performance in Chungking Express beautifully. Cheung is a fantastic actress in anything she does, but here she is touchingly warm as the repressed housewife who yearns not for love, but simply a companion. It is a very unconventional love story, because while these characters are clearly in love, there is an almost entire absence of any physical representation of love, with very few moments of romantic intimacy or expressions of love. The romance in this film simply comes from the way the two leads have intense chemistry and through the vague but meaningful writing. It is such a strange romantic story, because by its very definition, it isn’t romantic at all – the two lovers next actually become lovers, and rather have an angst-filled friendship, where they yearn for the other, but can’t ever act on their urges to fall in love, because they are both married to other people. In the Mood for Love is almost Shakespearean, and it has various shades of Romeo and Juliet throughout, which is nailed into the viewers heavily with the unrequited love storyline that drives this film, and of course the unhappy ending.
What made Chungking Express so brilliant was that it was one of the rare films that have a perfect first act, a solid second act and a magnificent third act. Most films have one act that is weaker than the other, but Chungking Express have all three acts being magnificently equal. In the Mood for Love, however, does not. The first act is slower than it should’ve been. Wong clearly tried to place a bit too much information into that first segment of the film, which took some adjusting to. The second act was absolutely masterful, with the most beautiful editing and cinematography you will ever see, and both the leads and Wong were able to really hit their stride. The third act is polarizing – it is undoubtedly beautiful and poignant, but it is also slightly confusing and far too sudden.
The conclusion to the relationship between the two leads is not handled with the intense care it needed, and instead the abrupt ending is a shock to the system, and left me somewhat unsatisfied. I recognize that Wong probably had trouble finding the perfect ending for this film, and the ending he chose was not the one I would’ve wanted to see, but it was still a very unique way to end a film like this. Please don’t go in expecting a majestic romance, because this film will truly leave you cold in that regard.
I thought In the Mood for Love was a fantastic film. It has great performances and a heartbreaking story. I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion that this is one of the greatest films of all time, because it isn’t even the greatest film in the career of the director, but it is still a fantastic film, and one that I think truly is essential viewing.