The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
The title In the Mood for Love sets a certain kind of expectation. Knowing that it’s a foreign language movie that did pretty well in English speaking countries solidifies it. That title and reputation had me expecting something pretty deep and meditative, something pretty art house friendly and serious. Those ingredients can go either way with me. Sometimes it comes off as a wankfest snobs can pretend to like to show how smart they are. Other times, you get something really affecting. You get something like In the Mood for Love.
In 60s Hong Kong, two people move into adjoining apartments. Even though journalist Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) take rooms in bustling apartments packed with housemates, they live quiet, lonely lives, with spouses often away for long stretches of time for work. They regularly pass each other coming and going from a local noodle stand and recognise each other’s shared, isolated existence.
A shared, isolated existence that leads to finding solace and companionship in one another. When Chow begins writing a series of martial arts stories for his newspaper, Su helps. But 60s Hong Kong isn’t the kind of place where a man and woman married to other people can spend time together without starting a scandal. So, despite their platonic intentions, Chow rents a room away from their neighbours where the two can work together. But their platonic intentions don’t last long. The more time the two spend together, the stronger their feelings grow.
In the Mood for love is loose, flowing, and not too concerned with pace. I’d even call it a bit rambling, but that makes it sound bad. Substantial stretches in the early sections are just a series of scenes. One fades out, the next fades in and there’s no formal plot tying them together for a good long while. We see a few minutes in the day of the life of the two main characters, before moving on to a few minutes from a different day in the life. And just when I started to get bored and frustrated with that, it all started to pay off.
All of those seemingly disparate scenes were establishing these characters in a way that meant I never noticed I was watching character establishment. It was so much more natural and organic than a movie usually is, that once the plot started to play out, I felt like I knew them better, understood them and saw them as real, believable people more than I have with the majority of movies I’ve seen in my lifetime.