Rucavanné van Wyk’s review published on Letterboxd:
What a coincidence!
In this Hong Kong film we see a married woman and married man fall in love in working class Japan. Mrs Chan is a hardworking middle class woman who has locked down a new place to stay along with her spouse Mr Chan. Mr Chow is a hardworking middle class man who has locked down a new place to stay along with his spouse Mrs Chow. Coincidentally, this is at the same building, and their rooms are basically next to each other. Mr Chan is a businessman who is constantly travelling and Mrs Chow works late night shifts, and similarly to how we rarely get to see the actors that play them in the film, their presence with their partners is minimal as they are barely ever home. It doesn't take much for Mrs Chan and Mr Chow to realise that their respective spouses have been seeing each other behind their backs, and in their loneliness they, themselves, strike up a bond as they spend more and more time together.
A far cry from the typical Hollywood romcom we're used to, the film falls short on some finer mainstream technical aspects. However, therein, also lies the strength of this film. The writing is simple, and purely too obvious to make you feel as though this is just a coincidence. But it is this simplicity that gives way for the film's themes and two main characters. We get to see the basic form of human emotions such as loneliness, desire and then content. We get to see how easy it is to fall in love. We get to see how quickly our minds add society and its rules into the equation when confronted in a troubling situation.
Initially I was put off by the extremely short takes - or poor choice of editing - depending on which way you look at it. Multiple times throughout the film you get takes/scenes which last about 30 seconds to a minute, and in the first 15 minutes of the film I thought this would be bad for the overall narrative, and that it would get in the way of character building. But the film is so centred around our two characters and their situation, that by the 30-minute mark you get accustomed to these short takes and you feel as though the story is flowing just about fine. The actors playing Mrs Chan and Mr Chow slowly settle and expand themselves in their roles as the film progresses. Their chemistry grows steadily to the point where you as the viewer could feel the extreme tension within, around and between them. Some of the tracking shots with no dialogue become more appreciated as well, and the one or two tunes used to score this film become just another simple, yet beautiful part of Mrs Chan and Mr Chow's story. With that being said, I still think the use of a few longer scenes and more intriguing dialogue would have gone a long way in making the film's punch a bit stronger.
Furthermore, I loved how the director decided to not show Mr Chan and Mrs Chow, it definitely increased the value of the unfaithful - and love plot points. It got to a point where these two cheating spouses really didn't matter, because this is just what love (especially the type that comes in fleeting moments) is capable of. It closes off certain thoughts, certain objects and certain knowledge, it singles out, it concentrates itself in one place just as soon as you give it the glimmer of light to impose itself. It's a blissful watch to see how our two main characters basically yearn for each other, and how many times they want to give in to this bubble they so innocently found themselves in, but they realise they are adults, they have people around them watching, they have made vows, and there are certain moral values that they just have to respect and obey.
This had every right to fail, because it took on the ever-popular love angle, but love is not only a plot-point, but a motif in this film. Every modern corner in this world has been over-flushed with love stories, damsel-in-distress fairytales, and love quotes keep popping up on our social media feeds, face it - love has become ingrained in more corporeal, technological and materialistic ways. It has become more of a thing, rather than an honest feeling. That's why so many romantic films of today are considered cheesy and unoriginal. Because every form of this 'more tangible love' has been exploited and made aware to our younger generations at a fairly early age. In those cheesy films, we know every single following word and act. The same premise and dialogue get used in a slightly different manner and setting than the previous film. It is only when you get emotion in its purest form, that something can never feel forced or clichéd. As ironical as it may sound, in this fictional story, truer emotion has never been as vivid as it is here. This is mainly down to the genius of the director, Wong Kar-wai. He approached this love story in his own way, he had the know-how of ways in which deeper and stronger emotions get portrayed at their best. And isn't this what storytelling is all about - making the fictionalised feel as real as possible?
In the Mood for Love is a great journey into human nature, with a message that touches on subjects such as married life, the dependence on others to maintain love and self-worthiness, and the taboo of seeking and finding attention and a connection outside of your own marriage and promises.