by Marty Demarest
Despite having the word "love" in the title, Wong Kar-wai's film In the Mood for Love is as much about the things that nobody wants to think about when they're falling in love as it is about love itself. Consequently, the film becomes a potent antidote to the standard Hollywood romance. In those films, love is never scary, lovers are never cowards and relationships are only complicated enough to move a two-hour plotline forward. Here, in Kar-wai's vividly imagined 1962 Hong Kong, everything is defiantly reversed from that tradition.
The story is elegantly imagined -- a man and a woman rent rooms in neighboring apartments on the same day. Keeping their encounters polite and formal, they duck in and out of each other's lives in the cramped city. But after a discovery concerning their respective spouses establishes a bond between them, the story becomes less distinct -- a tangle of ambiguities and unspoken impulses.
It's almost as if Kar-wai wanted to challenge himself by seeing how much he could thwart the audience's expectations while simultaneously drawing them into his tale. He cast two breathtakingly beautiful leads -- Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Tony Leung Chiu-wai -- then kept them apart. Like his actress swaying across the screen in a different form-fitting, high-necked dress in each scene, Kar-wai's camera makes the cramped hallways of his setting seem unable to contain the film's beauty. Kar-wai's detached photography distances itself from the characters by shooting them in mirrors, framing them cut off by doorways.
This careful construction made In the Mood for Love one of 2001's greatest films. And it becomes an even more remarkable work of art after discovering some of the extra materials on Criterion's superb two-disc DVD. It turns out that Kar-wai took 15 months to assemble the film. Neither he nor his actors knew what the finished film would be like. There were moments of passion that never made it to the screen; many of them are collected here.
But these are only extras for audiences that have already fallen under the film's spell. Most viewers should be warned -- In the Mood for Love will tell you truths you might not want to hear. And it will not end in the ways that you might anticipate. It is stranger, more educational and more beautiful. Just like love.