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'In The Mood For Love'

Lured into 'Love': Hong Kong film is a mesmerizing romance

Friday, March 09, 2001

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The early scenes of "In the Mood for Love," now at the Manor and Denis theaters, take place in cramped apartments and narrow hallways. The movie literally keeps us looking around corners or hearing conversations we can't see.

'In The Mood
For Love'

RATING: PG for thematic elements and brief language.

STARRING: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung.

DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-wai.




The setting is Hong Kong in 1962. Two couples move in on the same day, renting rooms in adjacent apartments inhabited by their landlords.

But we only meet one half of each set of newcomers. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) is a journalist. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) is secretary to the head of a shipping company. Their spouses are always working late shifts or on business trips abroad. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan keep running into each other -- in the hallways, on the streets, at the restaurant where they buy noodles for dinner.

They're not sneaking about, nor are they being coy. They are simply neighbors who can hardly avoid seeing each other and who share a few interests, particularly a liking for martial-arts serials in the newspapers.

But the camera keeps finding them together until the audience begins to feel like it is eavesdropping on something confidential in a place where privacy seems impossible. We can well imagine the furtive longings in the hearts of these two shy, stunningly attractive people.

Slowly but surely, they discover the truth about their respective situations. What now? Their attempts to find an answer to that question, to come to terms with where they stand, together and separately, form the heart of this remarkable film, which was written and directed by Wong Kar-wai ("Chungking Express," "Happy Together").

Seldom do Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan speak directly to each other about their feelings, which constitute a welter of conflicts and desires. As the movie progresses, language seems to fade almost entirely from it. Emotions are communicated with a look, a gesture, the juxtaposition of camera and location, a haunting soundtrack that includes a repeated use of an instrumental theme and a period song crooned in Spanish by Nat King Cole.

Clearly, the movie is building a sense of the inevitable. Yet, oddly, Wong seems to strain for a conclusion. Cheung has said that during filming, "I couldn't see an end to it. There were no limits, it just kept going on ... we couldn't find the core of the film until the very end."

But that may be the only significant flaw of the movie, which features mesmerizing performances by the principals. Cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping-bin capture both the sleek modernity and the faded elegance of the setting. The same can be said for Cheung's colorful, form-fitting high-necked dresses that make her look thoroughly up to date, emphasizing her psychic separation from her older landlords.

"In the Mood for Love" proves aptly named, luring you into its spell.

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