In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love ½

I had high hopes that a rewatch of In the Mood for Love would right me in my Wong Kar-Wai disdain and that I could finally appreciate this well-loved director and further explore his catalogue. But sadly, time has only cemented my position that he makes the cinematic version of teen poetry: treacly, shallow, contextless, and sexless.

Most of the appreciation for this film normally rests on its cinematography. People praise the rich colors of Christopher Doyle's palette and how he renders the time period of the film. But few ever talk about how facile his camera placement and lens usage are. Want to show the emptiness of someone's life? Put them in a shot with only boring wallpaper. Want to show that two characters can't connect even though they're very close to each other? Use an extreme telephoto lens such that even in a normal two shot, one is out of focus. Want to convey the confusing space between two people? Don't include a master shot, so we're not fully aware of each character's relationship in the room to each other. Every shot is like nails on a chalkboard to me, like a script that's filled only with witticisms. And as far as the colors go, they're fine I guess, but give me Speed Racer, Marie Antoinette, or The Young Girls of Rochefort over this any day.

But I think what bothers me the most is that the film feels indulgent about its time period as if there's something good or beautiful about this "innocent" and unrealized love. And personally I think that's shit. I know that Wong has done other films where sex is on display and actually happens, but at least in the two I've seen (this and Chungking Express), sex feels like something that ruins real love. This movie is pure romanticism, and sex feels like a reality that it's unwilling to deal with. And for me, that's juvenile. Sure sex always heightens the stakes, but love, for me, is all about accepting those heightened stakes and taking that kind of real risk.

Most of what you need to know about this film is in Maggie Cheung's line to her boss about paying attention to small details. If this film were truly subtle, it wouldn't need a line like this to tell you it's subtle. It would trust you as a viewer to be into the subtlety or not. Instead it's the worst type, playing at subtle when it's actually as blunt as can be. Just like a teenager.

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