In the Mood for Love (2000)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-07-18
Summary: A beautiful look at the treachery of love
A friend once described the narrative of the opera "Pelleas and Melisande" as: "Nothing happens. Then Melisande dies." That could be a starting point for discussing this achingly beautiful film in which two people, each betrayed by his spouse, never quite become lovers. Even though they are sharing thoughts and feelings, a true willed intimacy is impossible.

Maggie Cheung has never looked more sublime and I have seen almost all of her movies, from the comedies in the 1980s to "Clean", not yet officially released in North America. Even "A Fishy Story" in which every shot of her was a clinic in how to make an actress look great on film pales in comparison.

In addition to the masterful cinematography of Christopher Doyle, Maggie Cheung looks so astonishing in this movie for a few other reasons. One is the very spare narrative and her complete command of it--she inhabits the part of the wronged but still somehow loyal wife so strongly that we lose sight of Maggie the actress. She becomes Su Li-zhen Chan, a pensive, tentative and badly hurt young woman who the audience falls in love with. Another reason is the astoundingly effective costuming by William Chan. She appears in many different variations of the traditional Cheongsam, its demure high neckline helping to frame her face. That her character owns (it would seem) several score of them is less important than how she looks in them.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai is well cast as Chow Mo-wan, the betrayed spouse. He is patient and long-suffering--too much so. He is simply too nice a guy. When the two of them have dinner and realize that their spouses have been sleeping with each other he is more rueful than angry.

We find out more about the life of Chow Mo-wan than Su Li-zhen Chan. Su Li goes to work (where she helps her boss keep his mistress a secret from his wife) returns home and doesn't seem to have much else to do. Chow Mo-wan not only has a work life but a social life of sorts. He also has ambitions to become an illustrated novel author and artist.

So the Tony Leung character, while suffering from his wife's infidelity, has a few other resources upon which to draw while Maggie Cheung's character is surrounded by philandering men with little else to distract her.

The movie is also a slice of early 1960s Hong Kong life, depicting the way that immigrants from one part of Shanghai lived cheek by jowl in rented rooms of rented apartments. The residents of the building make compromises in order to exist together--a balancing act between the need for privacy, a very human nosiness about people who they don't really know but who live in their midst and the requirements of human communication and simple politeness.

A further review could discuss this--the isolated "other" in the middle of the Hong Kong crowd but for me this is Maggie's movie and one worth seeing for her alone.
Reviewer Score: 10