Film Review: 화양연화 (In the Mood for Love)


It was in my late twenties when I first saw this movie. I was probably too young to appreciate it fully. Many years later after I’ve been through so many things, I saw this movie second time. It was different.

In 1962 Hong Kong, Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen moved into the next door and became immediate neighbors. The wife of Chow and the husband of Su are always busy working. The two start as neighbors who just say hi when bumped into each other and develop into a couple when they find out their spouses are seeing each other. Let alone the spouses, Su’s boss and Chow’s friend are also having affairs. Not sure if it was just the movie or a social trend at that time. Chow and Su spend time together eating dinner and Su helping with Chow’s writings. But there was no physical attachment, only their minds racing towards each other. Chow is too prudent and Su is too well-behaved, which leads to nowhere. At last, Chow leave for Singapore to leave away from her before their relationship gets serious.

1. The film shows the art of moderation. In Hong Kong where the population is dense, the film is set on an apartment building in which each family occupies a room with a bath but no kitchen. The residents share a break room for cooking and eating. The break room is always crowded and loud with the residents and visitors. The director, Wong Kar-wai, doesn’t show full bodies of the characters, except Chow, Sue, the owner lady and the maid in the apartment scenes. Even Chow’s wife and Su’s husband only appear with their voices or backs. No face or front body. Walls always cut into the apartment scenes which partially or fully cover people. These moderated expressions are well blended with the moderated emotional expressions of Chow and Su.

2. Until the second watching of this film, I didn’t realize Su, Maggie Cheung, was that stunning beautiful. Different fabric and colors of ch’i-p’ao, the mandarin gown, are the only costume she was wearing. The costume perfectly shows her femininity and moderated personality. When she was walking down the stairs in a slow motion with her clutch under her left elbow and a noodle container on the other hand, the famous music, Yumeji’s Theme, plays in the background. How beautiful!

3. Su repeatedly say “We are different from others.” Yes, they were different. It must have been too easy to be physically attached to each other when they found out their spouses are seeing each other and many others are too. However, holding hands or hugging when Su was crying were all. Chow and Su don’t talk much but their feelings are well read in their face and body expressions. At some point, I felt Chow is too prudent to dash Su and Su too well-behaved to seduce Cow. It was like they walk parallel so they never meet.

Now in my late thirties, the film had so much to appreciate in terms of their platonic love and background music and scene expressions. I loved the film. One of my best films!

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