Thursday, January 05, 2006

In Wong Kar Wai's Mood

Last night, I had 2 hours to kill before CSI: Miami was on, so I went through the sizeable stack of pirated DVDs I had brought home from my half-year in China and came across Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love. I popped it into the player, tore open a bag of Classic Lays, and settled back on our living room couch expecting a steamy, if not torrid, story of forbidden romance and unbridled passion.

My expectations were a little off.

Yes, it is a love story. And yes, it has forbidden romance, and to some degree it is steamy. But the passion between the two lead characters is intense not because they act on it, but because they repress it so much. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung play a married couple... who are not married to each other, but their respective spouses are carrying on an affair with each other, leaving our protagonists to find that misery really does love company (it helps that Cheung and Leung look pretty damn good being miserable). The two develop a friendship and eventually an attraction that simmers, seethes, and comes dangerously, exquisitely close to spilling over... but never does. Their feelings are kept contained by the fear of the social stigma that comes with adultery, and perhaps the unwillingness to duplicate the betrayal their spouses have inflicted on them, the very betrayal that threw them together in the first place.

This is the first Wong Kar Wai movie I've seen, and now I understand all the hype over this Hong Kong director. His style is natural and surreal at the same time, from capturing the actors' tiniest movements and gesticulations as unforgivingly as a home movie camera would, to transforming a cloud of ordinary cigarette smoke into the most mesmerizing thing you've seen. If I were to use only one word to describe the movie, it would have to be "languid". Indeed, I don’t think I knew the true meaning of languid until seeing In the Mood for Love. You know how some adjectives don’t come alive until you’ve seen them for real? Well languid was just oozing from our TV screen. There is not much meaningful dialogue in the film, and many scenes are shot in slow motion, with the same almost hypnotic background music playing over and over (my brother passed through our living room a couple of times as I was watching, and around the 5th time he finally stopped to say, "yan lang ba ang music sa buong movie?!"). The plot is actually quite simple and straightforward, and if you take out all the slow-mo sequences and other gratuitous shots, the movie could have been as short as 15 minutes. But Wong takes his time, deliberately, delicately, dreamily, and by the end of the movie you feel as if you have been pining along with the two barely-lovers for what seems like eons.

Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love leaves you feeling utterly frustrated, excruciatingly deprived, and agonizingly depressed, and in that way-- that teasing, tantalizing, tormenting way-- it really does put you in the mood for love.


At Friday, January 06, 2006, Anonymous mishy said...

Of course after reading your post, I had to look up the word "languid". I'm intrigued by your movie review. I'll look for the movie so I can see what's languid about it. =P

At Friday, January 06, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Haha, vocabulary word for the day ba? :p The movie's languid in a most lovely, luscious, luxurious way. Like eating an ice cream cone slooowly on a hot summer day. :)

At Friday, January 06, 2006, Anonymous ange said...

Tony Leung's a great actor. He starred in Infernal Affairs, right? :) Maggie Cheung is familiar although I don't think I've really seen her act. Hmm, is she the one in The Promise, the award-winning Korean movie?

Most Hong Kong films I've watched tend to be slow-paced (even if they are supposed to be action/suspense movies), but sometimes, it's okay, for as long as there is something along the way that would make the wait worthwhile. Sometimes, the actors/actresses make the dragging movies less tiring to watch. I like Hong Kong romantic comedies the best among all the genres that HK moviemakers use. The best HK romantic comedy is probably Love Undercover 1. I think you might have heard of that. I watched it 3 times, I think.

At Friday, January 06, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

I don't know about The Promise, but she was in Hero (with Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung again) and she played Soong Ching Ling in Soong Sisters. I think she's arguably the best Chinese actress around. Zhang Ziyi's overrated, in my opinion. But I'm reserving judgment until I've seen her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Memoirs of a Geisha. :)

At Saturday, January 07, 2006, Anonymous ange said...

Yes, she was in Hero, but that was a long time ago so I don't remember who she was and what she did. haha. Zhang Ziyi's okay. I guess she appears overrated because of her participation, together with the big names, in international films.

At Sunday, January 08, 2006, Anonymous jac said...

Oh....patience patience. That's not something i'm particularly good at when it comes to watching movies. I tend to press the forward button when things are sloow or redudant.

Happy new year, Ms. Lim! :)

At Sunday, January 08, 2006, Anonymous ange said...

The actress in The Promise is a different Cheung--Cecilia Cheung. :)


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