[Written for Mr. Showbiz]
Listed in the Cannes festival catalog as “Untitled” and shown via a print lacking its final sound mix, Wong Kar-wai’s new picture is both more of the same and a tentative step in a new direction. Although the Hong Kong director continues his fruitful partnership with first-rate, Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and although In the Mood for Love is often gorgeously framed, lit, and color designed, there’s virtually none of the swoopy/slithery camera moves that frequently outran purpose and sense in Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. Instead the visuals respect the discretion and emotional delicacy of the two principal characters, nextdoor neighbors (Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) who gradually realize that their respective spouses are having an affair. Mutual pain draws them together, after a fashion (the spouses themselves are scarcely seen and remain faceless even then). But this being the hyperromantic yet inveterately lonely world of Wong Kar-wai, we should know not to count on the fulfillment that the wall-to-wall Nat “King” Cole song track yearns for.
Characteristically, Wong’s script relies not at all on melodramatic complication or even much that would pass for incident. What feels like an infinite amount of time (though in fact the movie runs about an hour and a half) is spent in the infinitesimal details of Cheung’s and Leung’s respective comings and goings — meals picked up from the noodle shop downstairs, excuses made to well-meaning neighbors, hands that don’t quite touch during conversations — as they drift, and occasionally lean, toward emotional convergence. Consequently, the rain streaming off a streetlamp cowling becomes as emotionally expressive as a longing stare between the couple standing below. But since the couple are also two of the most sympathetic actors and radiant icons of the New Asian Cinema, In the Mood for Love has an excellent chance of becoming the Brief Encounter of the new millennium.