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Set in Hong Kong, 1962, Chow Mo-Wan is a newspaper editor who moves into a new building with his wife. At the same time, Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary and her executive husband also move in to the crowded building. With their spouses often away, Chow and Li-zhen spend most of their time together as friends. They have everything in common from noodle shops to martial arts. Soon, they are shocked to discover that their spouses are having an affair. Hurt and angry, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful mates. Written by
I think that New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell wrote the best one line review of In the Mood for Love when he said that it is "dizzy with a romantic spirit that's been missing from the cinema forever." How true those words are! Truly romantic films are so rare these days, while films that include plenty of sex and nudity (which are often portrayed in a smutty and gratuitous manner) abound. So, given this cinematic climate, Wong Kar-wai's latest film feels like a much needed breath of fresh air. In the Mood for Love is about the doomed romance between two neighbors ("Mr. Chow," played by Tony Leung and "Mrs. Chan," played by Maggie Cheung), whose spouses are having an illicit affair, as they try "not to be like them." But after hanging out with each other on lonely nights (while their spouses are away "on business"/"taking care of a sick mother"), they fall madly in love, and must resist the temptation of going too far.
Several factors are responsible for making In the Mood for Love a new classic among "romantic melodramas," in the best sense of that term. First, the specific period of the film (i.e. 1960's Hong Kong) is faithfully recreated to an astonishing degree of detail. The clothes (including Maggie Cheung's lovely dresses), the music (e.g. Nat King Cole), and the overall atmosphere of this film evokes a nostalgia for that specific period. Second, Christopher Doyle's award-winning, breathtakingly beautiful cinematography creates an environment which not only envelopes its two main characters, but seems to ooze with romantic longing in every one of its sumptuous, meticulously composed frame. Make no mistake about it: In the Mood for Love was the most gorgeous film of 2001. (It should also be mentioned that Wong Kar-wai's usual hyper-kinetic visual style is (understandably) toned down for this film, although his pallet remain just as colorful.) Third, there is the haunting score by Michael Galasso, which is accompanied by slow motion sequences of, e.g. Chan walking in her elegant dresses, Chan and Chow "glancing" at each other as they pass one another on the stairs, and other beautiful scenes which etch themselves into one's memory. The main score--which makes its instruments sound as though they're literally crying--is heard eight times throughout various points in the film and it serves to highlight the sadness and the longing which the two main characters feel. Fourth, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung both deliver wonderful performances (Leung won the prize for best actor at Cannes) and they manage to generate real chemistry on screen.
The above elements coalesce and work so nicely together to create a film that feels timeless, "dizzyingly romantic," and, in a word, magical. In the Mood for Love, perhaps more than any other film of 2001, reminded me why it is that I love "going to the movies." And I guess that is about the highest compliment that I can pay to a film.
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