Kevin Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
A truly melancholy yet poignant experience, In the Mood for Love is a truly devastating look at those on the other side of infidelity. Yet, at the same, purely and subtly romantic. As a result, director Kar-Wai Wong's moving film touches on themes of adultery, marriage, and love, as these two people try to cope with the way in which their lives have been destroyed. Blessed with good cinematography, good acting, and a great score, In the Mood for Love is a wonderful work that really hits home.
After moving in next door to one another, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) discover that their spouses are having an affair with one another. What plays out is them imaging their spouses' spending time with one another, as well as them imagining confronting their adulterous partners. Unfortunately for them, their spouses heavy travel schedule prevents any of these interactions from actually taking place, thus leaving them in eternal limbo as they await their returns. As expected, the two fall in love and spend more and more time with one another, but repress their emotions to keep up appearances. By the film they are willing to move on their love, time has passed and they simply can no longer because together as life has brought them extenuating circumstances.
A decidedly melancholy film steeped in themes of respect and loneliness, In the Mood for Love only subtly pays off on its hinting at the main characters' love. Though Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan certainly hit it off and love spending time with another, the film goes out of its way to showcase the two of them maintaining their purity and not becoming their spouses. Instead, they hold themselves back and keep on just being friends. Wong does great at capturing this element as the romantic tension and longing between the two shines through in large part to the camera work and acting.
In the Mood for Love is incredibly slowly paced, which allows for the full emotional impact of their trauma and regrets to really linger with this audience. Even more, this slow, methodic pacing almost becomes wholly melodic and poetic as Wong weaves his way through this relationship, the crumbling of their marriages, and their later attempts to reconnect but to simply be kept apart. In particular, the discussion of the old method of hiding secrets and then seeing Mr. Chow do exactly as he described while in the ruins of Cambodia is a truly moving and poetic ending to the film. Yet, incredibly subtle and restrained, as is the case with Wong's characters. Plus, this scene does a great job capturing larger topics in the process. it was not just our two protagonists whose lives changed, but also all of Hong Kong. As hinted to at the end, Hong Kong has changed dramatically since they met four years prior to the end of the film. Not only have their former landlady's moved out, but times have changed and people are moving on. The fact that Wong chose to end the film in Cambodian ruins is also attached to this element, considering it is a very visual representation of the way in which time moves on and leaves destruction, ruins, and memories in its wake. The camera work in this final sequence is particularly moving as it moves through these Cambodian ruins as Mr. Chow visits them.
Ultimately, Kar-Wai Wong's In the Mood for Love is a truly tragic exercise in heartbreak, repression, and loneliness. Though these two may love one another, they simply cannot allow themselves to express this in the conservative Hong Kong. If they did, it would be the end of them socially. Thus, they remain silent. Wong does a tremendous job capturing their chemistry even in silent moments and developing his characters, as well as their relationship. Wholly authentic in its portrayal of love and romance, In the Mood for Love is a film that may be very slow, but it is a truly melodic and poetic experience. Due to the circumstances, it also left me in ruins and "crept up on me". After I wrote this review and submitted it, I knew I had to go back and fix the rating. Somehow a 4/5 felt harsh when this film is a real wonder. How someone was able to so accurately capture love and its nuances is incredible. In the Mood for Love is a brilliant work in every facet.