Saturday, July 22, 2006

[DVD] In the Mood for Love (2000)

I Need Some Lovin' Tonight

It's beautifully depressing.

How someone you come to love, in a relationship that's forbidden and socially frowned upon from the onset, has decidedly moved on, while you cling onto and yet distract yourself from it, until the day you finally choose to call it quits, by trying hard to forget the bittersweet memories.

That basically summed up the storyline in Wong Kar-wai's movie, with the title from a song of the same name, it's all about the mood. And key to bringing this mood to life, is the excellent production sets, art direction and costumes. Accurate to the littlest detail of how a 60s Shanghainese community in Hong Kong lived, I couldn't help but smile at the presence of an "amah", because I grew up as a toddler with one, kind of. And the language adds that bit of authenticity too. This movie did wonders for the cheong-sam, having Maggie Cheung appearing in different ones in most scenes to highlight time progression.

And what is mood without the necessary music to punctuate the visually beautiful shots, by long time cinematographer and collaborator Christopher Doyle, and Lee Pin Bing? It's half the battle won in my opinion, that the musical pieces fill the gaps which lack dialogue and compliments the slow cinematic shots, and I'm addicted to the waltz of the main love theme by Shigeru Umegayash. But it's one thing to have excellent music, and another when the music, effects and ambient noise are able to carry the entire movie on its own (you can select this audio track option from the Criterion Collection DVD).

Now that the obvious statements about music, sets, costumes are out of the way, all these come to naught without a story. I'm glad that most of the scenes which were cut off, were done so, as they were quite cheesy, though humourous, and what remained from the 15 months production, tells a very mature, measured story on forbidden love in society's eyes, friendship and then more.

There are plenty of material here which 2046, another movie which I enjoyed, had referenced, adapted and complimented, such as the hotel room, the writer in Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), and his attitude in the sequel. One of my earlier Wong Kar-wai movies which I watched as a teen in the cinemas is Days of Being WIld, starring an ensemble cast which included Maggie Cheung, here as Mrs Chan, though I'd like to think of her movie's character here, as an extension of Su Li-zhen in Days (actually Wong provided her that character as a reference point when Maggie was asking incessantly questions about her character). And Tony's character in Days, a last moment cameo like appearance supposedly about a gambler in a never-made sequel, I'd liken it to Chow here, so in my own way, these movies form a loose trilogy.

For those who have already watched the Korean movie April Snow, you would already realize that it borrows from the same theme of two characters, chancing upon each other by Fate, and learning that their respective spouses were having an affair with each other. While April Snow went for the common jugular in having the cheated upon spouses go head on with each other, In the Mood tackles it way too differently, providing loads of tension, and subtle teases, negating your want of the leads to develop their friendship into something more.

And therein lies the strength of the movie. How Chow and Mrs Chan develop an unlikely friendship, which hints strongly at how it all could have been, under a 60s conservative environment, where they have to restrain their feelings for each other under society's judging eyes. Living in a communal environment too doesn't help their cause, even though it is pure to begin with - 2 lonely people, betrayed, and at times, tempted to take that leap of faith to challenge societal norms about love.

Thankfully, potentially confusing ideas were not fully developed or made the final cut. There were thoughts to have the respective cheating spouses played by the same actors, but that would truly add to the confusion, The idea was developed separately into the "what could have been" and played out as various "rehearsals" as Chow and Mrs Chan try in their earlier quest to find out the whys and the hows their spouses could have gotten together, known each other, and started off the affair, but themselves vowing that they will never go down the same path.

So in this vow already laid the foundations of how their friendship would be, and set a line in which their friendship could not cross nor develop into something more. And it's sometimes ironic too, that Mrs Chan, in her job, assists her boss in covering up his affairs. Kinda like a what-goes-around-comes-around.

There are plenty of imagery throughout the movie that one could look into and try and interpret, and plenty of how society in those days have a deep impact on human behaviour. I'd take forever in trying to list down all of mine, perhaps I'll do so one day when I own the DVD (saving to get my copy!), but I particularly liked the one at the restaurant where they finally learnt about their spouse's affair, and that long walk back home, where they walk, from out of step, into tandem. It's a becoming of 2 to 1, where lonely persons find solace in each other's company, especially in the scenes after.

Anyway, all said, I love the movie, and it ranks up there with my all time favourites. If you were to watch it, make it none other than the Criterion Collection. (I'm not advertising for them, but I feel that this edition would help the viewer to appreciate the many rich layers more).

Given that this DVD edition is the Criterion Collection Special Edition Double Disc (whew), the extras alone have piqued my curiosity

Disc 1 Extras
Audio Options allows Dolby Surround 2.0, Dolby Digital Surround 5.0, and an isolated music and effects track which you can let it rip through the movie, if you dig the soundtrack. Other features include the usual chapter by chapter scene selection and default subtitles in English (which you can turn off), given the original Cantonese and Shanghainese soundtrack. I'm Shanghainese by dialect group, but I can only speak a line or two (yeah it's embarrassing). Time to learn from parents!

3 of 4 Deleted Scenes with director's commentary, which you must turn on.

Room 2046 (8 mins) - This scene was supposed to begin the movie, which I thought could probably also be a brilliant introduction which jumps right into the scheme of things. And I don't think I need to emphasize the significance of this room and its number, which could have been Room 307 instead.

Postcards (8m 20s) - The Singapore connection, set predominantly here, and durians too. The thought of being able to glimpse at a loved one, and not wanting them to know about your presence, is so commonly true. Director's commentary here is minimal though.

The '70s (8m 52s) - Am quite amazed that quite a bit of the 70s scenes were shot, but WFW decided not to stretch the time line of the movie to the 70s because of budgetary and time constraints. The beginning of this scene quite bitchy though, but that's expected when you put 2 women who love the same man together. And probably there's no need to introduce a new character into the movie too

A Lost Encounter (7m 45s) - The much touted alternate ending at Angkor Wat where Maggie Cheung's Mrs Chan also makes an appearance. An equally sad ending, but I felt the hurt one can dish out, especially if through the body language, you can interpret that she's lying, but with a will of steel, has inevitably moved on, with or without you. In my humble opinion, this scene is like twisting the knife already stabbed into your heart, but given the actual scene used for Maggie's character earlier, then probably there was no need to bring her back into the movie again.

The music of the movie gets a section too, presented in an essay by a Joanna Lee, with statements by "Angkor Wat Theme" composer Michael Galasso about how he became involved in the project and how the theme was created, and director Wong Kar-wai, where you learn that the main love theme is obtained from a 1991 film Yumeji

Last but not least, a short film "Hua1 Yang4 De4 Nian2 Hua1" by Wong Kar-wai, consisting of a montage of images from old Chinese cinema films found in a warehouse. Accompanied with press notes.

Disc Two
Disc Two contains plenty more background and information of the movie, one which will help the casual viewer appreciate the movie more, and one which fans will definitely enjoy.

@ In the Mood for Love is a documentary that traces the entire production process from inspiration to final product, with the option to view it in easily digestible chapters. For those who like to have a glimpse of how Wong directs, the making of will shed some light, for example, how he will describe a scene to the actors, and then they act it out, all without script. Some deleted scenes are included, and it ends off with a showcase of the worldwide adulation Wong and the two leads receive when they travel worldwide to promote the movie.

There's the usual cast and crew biographies, a 3 section photo gallery, two interviews with director Wong Kar-wai, done during Cannes Film Festival 2001, the first which is jointly conducted by critics Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret, lasting 20 minutes, where Wong shares plenty on his creative process, and you'd come to realize and understand the richness of this movie. The second one lasts 15 minutes, conducted by Gilles Ciment, and goes more into the technicalities and techniques of a Wong Kar-wai movie, as well as his experience in Hollywood (the BMW films). Naturally there are some details which are repeated in both interviews, like how the inspiration for 2046 arose during the making of.

The Searcher: Wong Kar-wai, is a neat summarized biography of the director's past works, including posters, pictures and trailers from movies like Ashes of Time (damn stylo), Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and In The Mood For Love, which had posters (used, and unused) and pictures from deleted scenes too, from a time where the movie actually had adopted a different look and feel, which ended up at the cutting room floor.

A rich Promotional Material section, containing used and unused art and concepts, posters from various countries, TV spots and trailers from Hong Kong, US and France, and an 18 minute long "electronic press kit" consisting of scenes and comments from the director and the two leads. You can listen to why Wong Kar-wai refuses to use a script, and how the length of the movie took its toil, yet did wonders for Tony and Maggie.

An essay on 1960s Hong Kong and its influences on the film, from important events in history, to the cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore, to even renowned martial arts novelist Jin Yong and beautiful cheong-sams, which included a brief clip on the making of one.

The 40 minute press conference, with the option of watching it at logical intervals, at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival with Maggie and Tony in attendance fielding questions from journalists, where you can learn precious nuggets on what went on through the arduous shoot. Maggie actually had more questions directed at her, and answered most of them, given Tony's rather laidback character.

Also included in the Criterion Collection package is a booklet containing a short story "Intersection" by Liu Yi-chang, which is one of the key influences for this movie.

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