In The Mood For Love (2000) directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Butterflies, the stomach variety. It's conceivable that you have felt this feeling if you have ever had a serious infatuation with someone and merely being in their presence can bring on that anxious stomach ache. It's a prequel to longing and wanting and not having. It's a feeling of desire. Many people have argued that once that feeling goes, so has the romance. Watching In The Mood For Love brought that feeling back. Butterflies.

There is so much that is good in Wong Kar-Wai's picture. He respects the audience enough not to have to spell everything out. You can use your imagination here. You can dream. This feeling is helped by Christopher Doyle's amazing cinematography. The principle characters are lithe creatures, the way they slink across the screen in slow motion. Maggie Cheung wears the tightest, coolest dresses, enhancing Mr Chow's sense of can't-have-sexuality. Tony Leung wears a white shirt like no other. His smoking rivals Belomondo's. Not since early Godard has the screen been lit up by such a cool couple.

But unlike Godard there is no need for pretension or theory. There is a sense of unrequited love in In The Mood For Love which is against the prevailing sexual freedom that seems to exist in 1960's Hong Kong.  Even the closest loved ones of the main protagonists have "got it on". Mrs Chan and Mr Chow just can't bring themselves to cross that barrier, the moral high ground is theirs. The longing goes on, and the real deal of romance is realized.

In The Mood For Love was a film I missed out on when it came out. Everybody talked about it and I could see it had caught the imagination of my young friends. There were posters and imitation dresses and I could see the beauty of these things, but I missed the narrative that had sparked this adoration. Last night the film unraveled in our living room. It seemed otherworldly with its saturated colors and its reserved passion. It had all the characteristics that would have made me a fanatic ten year ago.

My immediate afterthought is that In The Mood For Love has expressed something important of the nature of a fleeting individual life. It depicts what I have come to think recently: that personally and emotionally crucial events in an individual's life/life story rarely end up being the visible facts of her life. They do not end up in the biography afterwards or in the grand children's memory. As far as the the outside world is concerned,  Li-zhen has no connection to Mr. Chow, yet for the rest of their lives their encounter marks them.

Another astonishing life-likeness appears at the very end of the film. Mr. Chow is in Cambodia and it is four years since the time he spent with Li-zhen. I have no idea what he is doing in that country. The camera follows him to a temple, then it stays there seeing the ruins, contrasting light, letting the character of the story slip away. Events and locations seem arbitrary in life. They can be lined together and connected through narrative, but often its thread is broken. Is that tragic or is it precisely the beauty of it?


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