TRAGIC LOVE MONTH #5: In the Mood for Love, by Wong Kar-wai (2000)

Type of Media: Film

Love stories often tell of the same kinds of relationships over and over again. Couples overcoming every obstacle to be together. People smashed into a relationship by destiny. Star-crossed lovers doomed by fate to stay apart. What's missing, though, are the romances that just don't pan out. There's a serious connection between two people, and they would love to be together, but just one or two or three things aren't right and the flames of passion don't meet. The kinds of small tragedies you see written on the Missed Connections section of Craigslist.

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love tells one of these stories. Two next-door neighbors in an apartment complex, Chow and Mrs. Chan, grow lonely because their spouses are always away for work. They go to the same alleyway noodle stand, and strike up a friendship so they don't have to eat alone. Soon they piece together that their spouses are having an affair with each other, and start acting out scenes as their cheating partners. Even though their relationship is platonic, they have to keep it a secret to avoid scandal in conservative Hong Kong society. Eventually their friendship blossoms into something more, but they have trouble acting on it. They're still both married, and they don't want to stoop as low as their unfaithful other halves.

Chow and Mrs. Chan don't find true love in the end, and it's largely due to circumstance. Not just because of the few times they barely miss one another, but because of the attitudes they have due to their social positions. Their marriages are only formal and don't seem to contain any actual affection, but they still bind the two and stop them from pursuing their love. What keeps them apart isn't fate, but the selves that formed due to ideas ingrained in their culture.

In the Mood for Love is an incredibly stylish film from every standpoint. Its lighting and set design is gorgeous, with bright and dramatic reds and greens mixed with shadows that evoke a film noir feeling. Its soundtrack uses a lot of licensed old songs with lyrics that echo what's happening with the plot. The story isn't told in straightforward scenes, but in fragmented vignettes that feel voyeuristic, like we're just sneaking peeks at the two protagonists' lives. The camera aids that feeling, giving us shots from behind furniture or textured glass that sacrifice clarity for a greater feeling of being in the frame.

If you don't have much experience with foreign film, In the Mood for Love is a great movie to start with. Its a simple, personal story about the kind of lost love that happens to a lot of people, and its told beautifully. And if you like it, check out Kar-wai's other films Days of Being Wild and 2046.