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Issue #128a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES October 7th, 2002

In The Mood For Love
(2000; Block 2 Pictures/Paradis Films/Jet Tone Films)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Fa yeung nih wah
Mandarin: Hua yang nian hua
English: The Age of Flowers

Tony Leung Chiu-wai appears in the final minutes of Wong Kar-wai's DAYS OF BEING WILD as part of a bit designed to set up a sequel. As the film was poorly received by audiences, it has yet to be produced but Wong's IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE can be considered a companion piece. The director has stated that he regards MOOD as another chapter of DAYS and, in fact, Maggie Cheung's character in this later film, Su Li-zhen, shares the same name and could theoretically be that girl a few years later. Might Tony Leung's handsome, unnamed stranger also be the character he plays here?

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE opens in 1962 Hong Kong. Secretary Su Li-zhen (Cheung) and newspaper man Chow Mo-wan (Leung, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes) have rented neighboring rooms in a building owned by the nosy Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan Di-hua) that is also occupied by her transplanted Shanghainese friends. Li-zhen and Mo-wan often pass in the hall and, occasionally, in the street, greeting each other politely and engaging in superficial small talk. However, it gradually becomes apparent to both of them that their mates (played by Paulyn Suen Kai-kwun and Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung, who are heard but never clearly seen) are having an affair...with each other. This draws Li-zhen and Mo-wan closer and, after a while, they even pretend to be their respective spouses, rehearsing confrontations that may never come to pass. While their attraction is genuine, each is hesitant to pursue their own affair and this reluctance is exacerbated by social convention and the ever-prying eyes of Mrs. Suen.

If that synopsis seems rather brusque, it is simply because IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is, like most of this director's work, more concerned with character and effect than narrative. Dispensing with the voiceover narration this time, Wong creates a mood entirely through imagery, editorial rhythm and musical motifs (like the repeated use of a mournful string piece and the Spanish Nat "King" Cole song "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" ["Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps"]) that gradually becomes hypnotic. Receptive viewers will be carried along in this almost narcotic-like haze that is as much a familiar and integral part of a Wong Kar-wai movie as the masterful cinematography and art direction. As befitting a love story that is never consummated in the traditional sense, MOOD emerges the director's most tender and restrained work to date. The majority of Li-zhen and Mo-wan's time together unfolds in confined spaces (rooms, hallways, alleys) with the camera positioned in a way that makes the viewer a secret observer sharing these private moments (although we do so in an assenting, rather than voyeuristic, mien, Wong is also reminding us of how little privacy these two have). As is his practice, the camera stays on the captivatingly beautiful leads for "unnatural" periods of time, allowing us to absorb the subtlest expressions of emotion on their faces, thus communicating volumes while seemingly imparting little or nothing (Cheung is particularly adept at this and manages to top what she accomplished in her celebrated ASHES OF TIME cameo). The film is a masterful exercise in subtle technique: sexy without being openly sexual, eloquent without being obvious, beautiful without being overpowering, and dream-like without ever leaving the realm of possibility.

Cover art courtesy Criterion.

Maggie Cheung. Image courtesy Criterion.

Tony Leung. Image courtesy Criterion.

Cheung and Leung. Image courtesy Criterion.

Cheung. Image courtesy Criterion.
Criterion #CC1580D (U.S. Label)

Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.0

Mixed Language Track (Sync Sound)

Optional English Subtitles

28 Chapters

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (1.80:1)

Macrovision Encoded

Coded for ALL Regions

98 Minutes

Contains mature themes but no objectionable material

DVD menu for Disc One courtesy Criterion.

DVD menu for Disc Two courtesy Criterion.

Australia: G
Argentina: ATP
British Columbia: PG
Chile: TE
Finland: S
France: U
Germany: 6
Great Britain: PG
Hong Kong: IIA
Netherlands: AL
Norway: A
Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG
Spain: 13
Sweden: BTL
United States: PG (Thematic Elements and Brief Language)

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (which was also awarded the Grand Prix de la Technique prize at Cannes) was started by Christopher Doyle but, as the shoot dragged on and on, he had to leave because of other commitments and was replaced by celebrated Taiwanese DP, Mark Li Ping-bing (EIGHTEEN SPRINGS, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI). The compositions are formal, with beautifully balanced colors and contrasts, eschewing the makeshift experimental extremes Doyle tended to favor, and a movie this meticulously designed requires a very attentive transfer. Fortunately, Criterion has delivered a 16:9 presentation that is stunning in its clarity and richness. The colors in the 1.80:1 transfer are gorgeous: reds are deep but never bleed from their boundaries, flesh tones are spot on, and the remaining hues are distinctively separated. Blacks are deep and uncompromised and contrasts are vivid. The image is remarkably detailed; even the age and weather-related wear adorning the exterior walls of buildings looks textured. Any flaws the source material contained have been digitally removed and edges remain stable throughout. Some vertical jitter is apparent in two scenes but that looks to be a production fault. The film was originally mixed in standard Dolby Stereo and that track is available, along with a 5.0 option, and an isolated music and effects track in 2.0. Only one previous Wong film was mixed in Dolby (HAPPY TOGETHER) and it had virtually no stereo effects whatsoever. This time, the director really uses the process to great advantage. The soundscape is subtle but impressive, with excellent high/low range and a superb delivery of the various musical pieces; dialogue is crisp and immediate. Rear channels are used sparingly to provide atmospheric effects, like rain and street noise, but they are enveloping and effective just the same. There is a smoothly executed layer change at 42:24.

Paulyn Sun. Image courtesy
In addition to the feature, four deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic 1.80:1 and mono) totalling 32 minutes are included, three of them available with optional director commentary in Cantonese with removable subtitles. Of primary interest is a coda set in the 1970s, featuring Paulyn Suen (seen most recently in Takashi Miike's outrageous ICHI THE KILLER, where she is billed under her new English name, Alien Sun) as Mo-wan's wife. She knows of his past dalliances with Li-zhen and intentionally puts Mo-wan on the spot by taking him to Mrs. Suen's building.
Wong says very little on the track and does not elaborate at all on why the sequences were dropped, not surprising really when one considers the oblique way he approaches each project. The director does provide some information about subjects like the locations and one of the gorgeous cheongsams worn by Maggie Cheung but never in much depth. Given how sparse and indirect his comments are, one is less disappointed that Criterion was unable to get him to sit for a talk during the feature.
Wong Kar-wai from interview segment. Image courtesy

From Hua yang de nian hua. Image courtesy
The company has also included HUA YANG DE NIAN HUA, a fascinating 2m 28s montage of images Wong pulled from a number of vintage Chinese features, most of which were considered lost until some nitrate prints were discovered in a California warehouse during the 1990s. Focusing on the popular actresses of the time, the short's lovely vintage costumes and imagery perfectly compliment the look and feel of the main feature. Unfortunately, the transfer (provided to Criterion by Wong's company, Block 2 Pictures) is framed too tightly on top, bisecting a number of heads. An essay on the score is also available (with direct chapter access to the cues under discussion), along with brief notes from Wong and composer Michael Galasso.

  ZOOM       ZOOM
Tony Leung (left) and Maggie Cheung (right) from their interview segments. Images courtesy

But that is merely the start: a second dual layer disc has been included that offers a multitude of additional supplements. "@In the Mood for Love" (51m 6s) is an absorbing look at the origins of the project, which began as "Summer In Beijing" with a more overtly erotic tone and went, in time-honored Wong Kar-wai fashion, through several evolutions. We are shown this via tantalizing excerpts from a number of scenes that did not make the final cut (in particular, a wonderful bit where the two characters do the Twist which was simply too lighthearted to remain in the movie). Leung and Cheung discuss how they dealt with Wong's extremely abstract style of direction and storytelling, and we are also shown bits from the film's premieres at various festivals. "Interviews With Wong Kar-wai" consists of two segments (22m 12s and 15m 47s respectively) in which the director elaborates (in English) on such topics as the turns the project took (there was originally to have been two other stories) his thinking in regards to the characters and atmosphere, how films by directors like Seijun Suzuki, Robert Bresson, and Michelangelo Antonioni influenced his thinking, and the problems the Asian Financial Crisis had on the production.

Maggie Cheung from The Toronto International Film Festival Press Conference segment. Image courtesy
"The Toronto International Film Festival Press Conference" (43m 28s) was taped right after the film's screening there in September of 2000, with Cheung and Leung fielding fairly basic questions from moderator Robert Gray and several reporters. A lot of information that was covered in earlier supplements is repeated here and the program has only modest value, aside from providing fans of the two stars with a chance to hear them speaking English in an informal, contemporary setting. A promotional section features various TV spots, trailers, and posters from France, Hong Kong, and the U.S., some unused art and concepts, plus the movie's electronic press kit (18m 16s).

Rounding out the platter are text supplements consisting of an essay on 1960s Hong Kong illustrated with images from the movie, a similarly designed section devoted to Wong, and detailed cast and crew bios. A
thick booklet tucked inside the keep case offers the Liu Yi-chang short story that inspired the film, liner notes by Li Cheuk-to, and a guide to the 27 chapters encoded for the feature (as per usual with Criterion, the extras are also chaptered and indexed). The one complaint in regards to this entire release is that the font used for the text sections can be a bit hard on the eyes, depending upon the size of your monitor. That said, Criterion has assembled the sort of reverent package and presentation that devotees of Wong Kar-wai (and Hong Kong cinema, in general) are rarely blessed with.

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