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In the Mood For Love

Cast: Lai Chin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Rebecca Pan, Siu Ping-lam, Chin Tsi-ang Written and directed by Wong Kar Wai Cinematography: Christopher Doyle, Pin Bing Lee In Cantonese with English subtitles DVD: Rs. 399

Never has such a passionate love story been so chaste! Wong Kar Wai’s story of love and longing in Hong Kong is so restrained, that it is unbearably erotic. The deliciously languorous “In the Mood for Love” (2000), won a slew of awards including best foreign film at the Cesar Awards, the technical grand prize at Cannes and was also nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes.

The movie opens in Hong Kong of 1962, “a restless moment” as the title card proclaims. Though Hong Kong is a crowded city with people practically living in each other’s laps, there is loneliness as well. Space is at a premium and getting a decent place to live, is not so much a matter of how much you can pay as it is a matter of availability. Su Li-zhen, a secretary at a prosperous firm, and Chow Mo-wan, a journalist, with dreams of writing pulp martial arts stories, move into neighbouring apartments.

The two nod politely as they meet each other in corridors on their way out or back home. Almost simultaneously the two realise their spouses are having an affair. The discovery throws them together and as they uncover deeper feelings for each other. However, they do not subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s theory of resisting temptation by yielding to it; as that, they both agree, would bring them down to the level of their cheating spouses. And so the two step around the minefield of emotions trying to do the right thing, the honourable thing.

“In the Mood For Love”, is off-kilter in so many surprisingly wonderful ways. The unfaithful couple are never shown on screen. Usually a film about adultery would have the cheating couple at the forefront, here the couple almost seem too coarse and common to have any place in the delicate narration. It is Li-zhen and Chow that we are interested in. It is their exquisite longing that stays with us forever, not the sordid assignations in Singapore or downtown by their spouses.

Li-zhen and Chow playact different scenarios. When Li-zhen asks, “Do you have a mistress?”, it is not her husband she is asking, but Chow. And her admission, “I did not expect it to hurt so much,” is heart-breaking for its simplicity and honesty.

For all the passion that is not shown on screen, the film is sensually shot in rich colours with a lush score. The camera plays a voyeur, moving between the two apartments to show us the proximity and the distance. Two of Hong Kong’s biggest stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung play the leads with uncommon self-possession.

The clothes and make up are spot on for an authentic look and feel of the hustle and bustle of the swinging Sixties. One wonders how it is that none of our Bollywood raiders thought of lifting the plot for a pot boiler. However, given our filmmakers dislike for restraint maybe it is a good thing.

“In the Mood for Love” is part of Palador Pictures’ attempt to make world cinema accessible to all. There are box sets available of auteurs like Kurosawa, Truffaut and Wong Kar Wai.

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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