In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love ★★★★★

"I thought I was the only one who knew."

Second place on the BBC's list of the greatest films of the 21st Century, In the Mood for Love is Hong Kong cinema at its best. (The year 2000 is the 21st Century, isn't it? Wouldn't it be the last year of the 20th Century? Like, we don't start with year 0... anyway.)

This is a fucking beautiful film. It's so subtle in the love story that it tells, unrequited or not. When two middle class 1962 neighbors suspect each of their spouses is cheating with each other's spouse, they commiserate and gently re-enact what they think happened, or moments where they should have seen it coming. It's incredibly clever and their own connection happens so gradually and naturally that I didn't think a film could present a situation like this so well.

This is the best film to ever portray loneliness. This may be the best film to ever portray the unflinching passage of time. Those are two very strong sentences, I understand, and they are immensely complicated to explain to someone who has not seen this picture. It also requires an understanding of the time and place of the setting here, early 60s Hong Kong, and the societal norms, spoken and unspoken. Those cultural rules belie the characters' choices and emotions, grounded in reality yet aching for anything else.

Speaking of the setting, dear lord, gorgeous isn't enough. Exquisite hip-hugging cheongsam dresses of every color. Long lingering shots that beg the two leads to come closer. Symmetrical hallways with pastel neons. A couple who are literally two of the most beautiful people ever put to screen.

Oh, and those slow-motion scenes, where they sometimes pass or sometimes interact or sometimes passively occupy space together... played over the main theme, they are cinematic perfection. I dare you to claim otherwise.

It's worth so many rewatches, because the immensely clever story has so many layers, but it's also purposefully limited. We never see those cheating spouses. I had to backtrack for a minute after I realized this, making sure I didn't miss something. Nope. And then the two, Chow and Su, their relationship is wonderfully ambiguous, playing one another a little but also coyly playing the audience. Are we seeing it all? And if we are, are they choosing not to take that next step?

"We will never be like them."

What would it take? Why would they choose to stay so unhappy in their respective marriages? At times they playfully toy with acting out the indiscretion of their spouses, and at times they sit silently together almost in quiet desperation. Never has a film shown so adeptly what it is like to be lonely while sitting, or eating, or talking with someone else.

Which is it? Are they in the mood for love? Or are they in the mood for control? Director Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece is not going to tell you that. You have to sit through, peel back the layers, and see if you can find out. You probably won't, but you will revel in pure beauty as you try.

Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.

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