My respect for Chinese movie industry has grown enormously over last year or so. As I said here, most of the more popular chinese movies here in US (and in India) are either period epics or martial art movies. That is unfortunate because every time I have seen a movie that doesn't belong to those genres, I have been highly impressed. That particular posting was made after I had seen Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express and today I am posting after watching another of WKW's movies - In the Mood for Love.
Probably the first thing that comes to your mind soon after the movie begins is that WKW surely has a style that you won't find anywhere else easily. Like Chunking Express, here too there are scenes where a song keeps playing in the background with the visuals moving in slow motion and absolutely no dialogue for longish periods. Like Chunking Express, here too the visuals are so stylish that the way the camera moves actually becomes an integral part of the story - take the camera movement out and the movie almost won't make any sense! Unlike the previous movie however, the visuals are so full of vibrant colors that the ubiquitous reds and browns and the sprinkling of greens and yellows make the movie worth watching even if you keep the TV on mute! Also, unlike Chunking, this one is actually much slower with many scenes occuring so many times that unless you are paying attention to the real story, you'd think that the movie has a lot of unnecessary repetition. It doesn't.
As the name suggests, the movie is about love. However, its a story much deeper than your average hollywood rom-coms. (In fact, I can't even imagine any movie even remotely like this one coming out of hollywood. Lost in Translation comes close. It was definitely inspired by WKW's style of movie-making. Yet it wasn't half as good as In the Mood for Love.) And the screenplay is extremely clever! The last love-based movie one could say that about, was Eternal Sunshine. Even though the cleverness here is not as gimicky - and ingenious - as ES, it is very effective in its own way. Its this clever bit that restricts me from mentioning most of the truely good things about this movie. You should find that out for yourself.
The movie is about two young couples that rent apartments next door to each other in a HongKong suburb. The female protagonist is called Li-Zhen, secretary in an export company whose husband has a job in a japanese company that keeps him away a lot of times due to business trips. The male protagonist is Chow, a newspaper editor with ambitions to become a martial-art comic book author. His wife is a hotel receptionist whose night shifts keep her out of his sight a lot of times. The faces of the spouses of the protagonists are never shown on-screen. In fact, they are always shown such that one could easily mistake Chow for Li-Zhen's husband and Li-Zhen for Chow's wife. This is part of the reason why many scenes where things seems to happen very slowly (literally in fact!! I'd guess 50% of the movie is actually shown in slow motion!!) still keep us captivated because we are thinking all the time - we don't know whose hand Li-Zhen is caressing, or whose shoulder she is crying on, or who is walking away from Chow. Anyway, Li-Zhen and Chow realize after some time that their spouses are cheating on them. Not just that, their spouses are actually involved with each other!!! They are hurt due to this breach of trust and become each other's support. Slowly the feelings start getting stronger which is a shock to both of them as they are innately decent people who won't want to cheat on their spouses (thereby diluting the "sin" of their spouses). The rest of the movie is about how they end up realizing the spontaneous welling of feelings in themselves and how they deal with it.
I know, this doesn't sound a terribly original idea for a story. But its not the basic story thats important here. The WKW style itself makes the movie completely different than most other movies with a similar story. But much more importantly, its the way the screenplay is set, that makes a familiar story come out on screen as a completely original movie. See it and you'll know what I mean.
Its a sensitive movie where even the costumes and the sets play a huge role in telling you about the time and the mood of the setting and the characters. That is true for most great movies in fact, so I don't think thats anything new. But, when the constumes that are appropriate for your story are as gorgeous as what Maggie Cheung wears here, one can't fail to mention it!
WKW is famous for not adhering to any script for his movies. In fact, he never has a script to adhere to. His cast and crew just assembles and waits for him to tell them what to do. And he tells them what he thinks should be done on any given day. There are times when everyone is ready and waiting for WKW to decide where he wants to take the story next. Maggie Cheung in fact said that it was very frustrating for her initially because she really didn't know her character at all. And any questions to WKW were useless as he rarely came out with anything! The amazing thing is that, this queer way of making movies is probably the reason why his movies have a sense of "free-flow", a spontaneity rarely equalled by most other movies.
To finish, here is a pic from the movie. Photo Courtesy: lovehkfilm.com