In the Mood for Love runs under a hundred minutes. Its present action is somewhat indeterminate, but less than a year total and a few weeks for the longest continuous sequence. As for the length of that continuous sequence, I’m not sure. There’s such a smoothness to William Chang’s editing. It’s calm and measured. It’s not always slow–it often isn’t, especially in the first half of the film, where director Wong and Chang show time transitions through change in dress. With such a concise runtime–and so many ambitions for the film’s visual narrative (which is somewhat separate from the plot)–Wong has to prepare the viewer for the film.
That preparation involves very tight narrative control–this scene leads to this scene, but Wong is actually building to a reveal. Only, since it’s at the beginning of the film, it’s unclear what reveal is supposed to be the most important reveal. At a certain point, In the Mood for Love should be able to be cut into two pieces. Big reveal, whenever it comes, should split the film. Except Wong’s stylistic approach in that first half, how the camera movements, how the framing of characters, it provides such a strong foundation there’s no split. And by not splitting, Wong’s better able to focus the narrative in the second half. In the Mood for Love is a guided tour of its story, with Wong relying on his actors to break through on another level, the tragic one. The actors create the characters, not the script or even Wong’s visual motifs for shooting them. It’s Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They’re the ones who get it done.
Great photography, great music. Wong’s got a nostalgic way of being realistic portraying the early sixties setting. The best example is probably how he uses Cheung’s dresses to establish a narrative flow and how he can also use them to disrupt the narrative. It’s all so precise, all so delicately done. The film has these slow motion sequences, but Wong keeps them all entirely separate. The way he’s progressing the visual narrative, he finds different reasons to get to the same technique. It should be complicated, but because of how Wong establishes the visual “language” in the first act, it isn’t.
Everything works–like Lam Siu Ping’s goofy sidekick for Leung or Rebecca Pan’s nosy but nice landlady. Thanks to Wong, his crew–and because of Cheung and Leung–In the Mood for Love achieves something singular. It’s great.
Written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai; directors of photography, Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-leung and Lee Ping-bin; edited by William Chang; music by Michael Galasso and Umebayashi Shigeru; production designer, Chang; released by Block 2 Pictures.
Starring Maggie Cheung (Mrs. Chan), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Mr. Chow), Siu Ping-Lam (Ah Ping), Kelly Lai Chen (Mr. Ho) and Rebecca Pan (Mrs. Suen).