Set in the straitlaced and gossipy Hong Kong of the early ’60s, In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai’s latest masterpiece of suave innuendo stars Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung as two married neighbors who share a contagious secret. Recent émigrés from mainland China, Mr. Chow (Leung), a journalist, and Mrs. Chan (Cheung), a secretary for a shipping company, have rented adjacent boardinghouse rooms in the close-knit Shanghainese section of Hong Kong. Left stranded by their absent spouses, Chow and Chan slink past each other on the stairs on their way to the noodle shop, and initially their casual encounters remain quite formal. Eventually, through a slow, undeniable accumulation of clues, the two surmise that her husband and his wife are having an affair, and their own burgeoning rapport acquires an erotic charge. (The erotic tinder of secrecy is ignited by the sexual nature of the secret.) The rest is left up to the viewer.
Known for his unique visual flair, Wong Kar-wai, whose career began as a graphic designer and screenwriter, here abandons the impressionistic flamboyance of his earlier award-winning films, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express and Happy Together. In this oblique, sensuous, divinely crafted portrayal of shame and yearning, Wong Kar-wai has tossed the moral card clean out of the pack, caring not a fig about the pros or cons of adulterous passion and glorifying neither marital fidelity nor betrayal. Rather, he opts for a phenomenological approach to the imperceptible flowering of desire, meticulously refracting each telling glance, movement or gesture through the diamond prism of his lens.
In the Mood for Love received a Best Actor award for Tony Leung and, for its sublime art direction, the Grand Prix de la Technique at the last Cannes Film Festival, where this discussion took place in the gardens of the Grand Hotel.