Set in 1960’s Hong Kong two neighbors struggle with conflict over falling in love. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays Chow and Maggie Cheung plays Mrs. Chan. They, along with their spouses are boarders in adjacent houses. Both spouses never appear on the screen and are frequently away on international business travel. Chow and Mrs. Chan spend increasing amounts of time together and develop a relationship limited by external and internal factors.
I was introduced to this film after seeing Everything Everywhere All at Once because of its similarities to one of the multi-verses in it. Forbidden love is not a new concept, but it usually takes a different path than what we get from In the Mood for Love. The fellow occupants of the adjacent apartments make comments throughout the film to Mrs. Chan about the time she is spending with Chow and her odd timing of re-entering the apartment. Chow does not get the same inquisitions despite his similar patterns. The film spends a lot of time normalizing extramarital affairs by using Mrs. Chan’s boss as an on-screen example.
The choice of time and location make for a wonderful setting. Hong Kong was controlled by the British and was more progressive than mainland China. Women had jobs outside of the home and international travel was not unheard of. The fashion of the time seemingly consisted of one single type of dress but in many different fabrics. Maggie Cheung looks gorgeous in every single scene. She dresses nicer to get noodles from a street stall than most of us do for weddings. Colors were popular at the time and force you to focus on Mrs. Chan.
Classic love stories usually have a happy ending and sometimes end in tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. Love can leave you unsatisfied for several reasons. Unrequited love has an asymmetric outcome. In the Mood for Love puts us on an unsatisfying journey that never quite resolves, yet I find it hard to identify flaws in the film. Sometimes things just do not work out despite the desires of those involved. As you sit with the ending of the film it deliberately feels unsatisfying at first. Then, as you process it, you come to realize just how effective the film was. This should eventually leave you grateful for having seen it.