Filled With Unfulfilled Love

If I had a time machine, Hong Kong in the 1960s will be in my list of destinations. The locale, as photographed in the movie, is brimming with mystifying allure and elegance. Hong Kong is wonderfully cosmopolitan. Its Asian denizens are sporting Western fashion and listening to smoldering Spanish music. What a setting to get in the mood for love.

The featured “lovers” of the film are Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung). They are neighbors in a cramped apartment building who learn that their spouses are cheating with each other. Possibly out of resentment and grief, they seek each other’s company for consolation. The walls that separates them become a part of their skin, longing to sense the other’s proximity. But still, they restrict their distance, because nurturing intimacy is to stoop to their spouses’ level.

For a romance story, “In the Mood for Love” is the most repressed I’ve seen since “The Age of Innocence.” How do you convey such a romance on screen? The heart of the story is about words unspoken and actions not taken. This makes the movie almost lacking in plot and its lush cinematography can be perceived as a cosmetic compensation. The film makes best use of the sounds of silence, the stillness of the night, and stolen glances. The palpable atmosphere is all there with its two central figures performing a dance of cautious seduction. In that sense, “In the Mood for Love” is achingly beautiful. Sadly, I think the movie falls short of brilliance due to its style. I get the idea that nothing is ever going to happen and the romance must unfold realistically. But that “nothing” also happens to be a drag. If we are meant to be voyeurs, then there’s something unnatural about watching scenes of inaction.

It’s easy to conclude that Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are in love. And that they are meant for each other and that the risk is more than worthy. It’s easy to suppose because we’re unaware of their deep doubts and thoughts. It’s not like sex is going to solve anything. What if they find out their love is only moved by restraint? If they pursue a relationship, can they truly handle the burden of guilt? Do they know what exactly the other one is feeling? Perhaps, they still love their spouses very much. Who knows. But I do know they like each other’s company. And all they can do isto press the passing present to stay a little longer.

Grade: B+