The main review was written by the legendary Eddie Feng in 2002 in conjunction with Criterion's 2-disc SD release of Wong Kar-Wai's “In the Mood for Love” (2000). The Video, Audio, Extras, and Film Value section are written by Christopher Long in conjunction with the 2012 Blu-ray release by Criterion.
The Film According to Eddie:
"Instead of asking us to identify with this couple, as an American film would, [director] Wong [Kar-Wai] asks us to empathize with them; that is a higher and more complex assignment, with greater rewards."
--Roger Ebert, "In the Mood for Love" review
Hong Kong is a motley collection of islands, reclaimed lands, and connecting highways. Real estate is so rare that planes used to fly a few feet above buildings near the old Kai-Tak Airport. People literally live on top of one another.
In this environment, two couples sublet apartments that are right next to one another. Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) have to handle moving day by themselves as their spouses are both out of town. (They happen to move into their new homes on the same day, and there's a lot of comedy involving the movers putting the wrong things into the wrong apartment.) She's a secretary who wears gorgeous qi-paos (cheongsams to Westerners) to work everyday, and he's a newspaper man who writes martial arts serials on the side.
During the course of the next few months, Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan tentatively become acquainted. Theirs is a slow approach because of the strict social codes in place during the 1960s. Still, with both of their respective spouses gone most of the time, what are two neighbors to do but to chat it up once in a while? And, one day, they come to the realization that her husband and his wife have been having an affair for as long as they have lived in these apartments, possibly even before that moment in time.
The film never shows the faces of the spouses, and their voices come from off-camera. Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan begin to spend a lot of time together as they try to figure out how their spouses could find it in themselves to cheat. This leads Su and Chow to enact "pretend" encounters between their spouses. There's also a hilarious yet sad scene that begins with Su demanding to know if Chow has a mistress. As she breaks down crying, he comforts her by telling her that they are only rehearsing. It turns out that he's playing her husband so that she can prepare herself for the inevitable hard questions that she must ask of her man.
"In the Mood for Love" (2000) depends on fractured portions of an affair between two people who aren't even really onscreen at all in order to tell the story of two people who fall in love despite themselves. Because Su and Chow participate in activities that are more meaningful than simply just sex, they fall for one another and share a bond stronger than the one between their cheating spouses. Still, the audience is left guessing often in order to fill in many blanks that the filmmakers left. Do Su and Chow sleep with one another? Do Su and Chow ever even kiss? Do their spouses know that Su and Chow are getting involved on some level with each other?
"In the Mood for Love" experienced quite an odyssey during its editing process. Director Wong Kar-Wai was editing the film right up to its world debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The filmmakers shot tons of footage that was never used, including a steamy love scene between Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. Maggie Cheung once said that the exclusion of so much footage that was "important" to the actors created an alternate reality where the actors were left wondering if they had shot those scenes at all.
Perhaps the "final" cut of "In the Mood for Love" will infuriate many viewers because of its deliberate attempts to shy away from a straight-forward, explain-everything-to-you narrative, but the project must have one of the most fascination production histories in the annals of cinema. "In the Mood for Love" is a throwback to the days of black and white cinema, when censors and social mores dictated that not everything could be shown to audiences. Therefore, audiences had to think, to engage actively in figuring out the subtext of the film rather than having the filmmakers spell everything out for you. Yet, "In the Mood for Love" is also an indication of the future of filmmaking. Made without a set script, cast and crew members developed the story as shooting progressed, so the end product works as an organic (albeit elegiac) whole.
The Film According to Christopher:
I agree with Eddie.
The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. There was some discussion back in 2002 about Criterion cropping some information from the framefor the SD, but that appears to have been fixed in this high-def transfer which is a truer representation of the original film.
The SD transfer was fairly crisp and robust by the standards of 2002, but this 1080p update represents a meaningful improvement. The colors are rich, popping off the screen (those reds sure are red) when they should but cool and evocative at other times, and the image resolution is so sharp you can really appreciate the intricate period costumes and set design. I'm sure others will nitpick details here and there, but this high-def transfer looks absolutely gorgeous to my eyes, and I doubt you'll see a superior version any time soon.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 audio track doesn't blow out the surround channels, but it does use them to create a very atmospheric sense of space: the sound of light rain is enveloping but not attention-grabbing. As far as I can tell, the dialogue is all crisply recorded and, most importantly, the remarkable score has a real sense of depth and resonance here. Optional English subtitles support the Cantonese and Shanghainese audio.
Criterion's 2002-Disc SD release has been consolidated onto a single disc for this Blu-ray release. The film retains its original spine Number 147.
The two new features, not included on the 2002 release, are two 2012 interviews with critic Tony Rayns. In the first interview (“On 'In the Mood for Love'”) Rayns discusses the film's place in Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre now that it's more than a decade old. In the second interview (8 min.), Rayns analyzes the director's use of music in the film from clips overheard on old radio programs to popular torch songs. You can also sample music from the film, played over a still shot.
Because of the latter feature, the interactive text essay about the film's music from the 2002 SD has been dropped from the Blu-ray. We also lose the text feature by scholar Gina Marchetti about the film's settings as well as the old Photo Gallery and text bios about the cast and crew.
The rest of the features are duplicated from the 2002 release:
“@ In the Mood for Love” (51 min.) is a documentary by Jet Tone Films about the film's production, with lots of behind-the-scenes footage and some scenes that didn't make the final cut.
The disc includes Four Deleted Scenes which have become more familiar to viewers than most deleted scenes usually do: Room 2046 (8 min.), Postcards (8 min.), In the Seventies (9 min.), A Last Encounter (8 min.) The first three scenes can be played with optional audio commentary by Wong Kar-Wai in Cantonese with optional English subtitles. Each scene must be accessed separately; there is no “play all” option.
“Hua Yang De Nian Hua” is a 2000 short film (2 min.) that Wong Kar-Wai assembled entirely out of print elements from a California warehouse and features ghostly nitrate snippets of beautiful Chinese actresses from the early 20th century.
Under the menu option titled “Wong Kar-Wai” you can choose two options. First is a 2001 interview (22 min.) conducted by scholar Michel Ciment and filmmaker Hubert Niogret. The feature consists entirely of a close-up of the director sitting outside (intercut with stills from the film) speaking in Eglish.. Second is a “Cinema Lesson” (16 min.) which is really from a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival (2000, I assume) in which the director discusses how he shoots without a script as well as other idiosyncracies of his production method.
We also get a lengthy Rogers TV presentation of a Press Conference from the 2000 Toronto International Festival (43 min.) In the credits, the director is identified as “Wang Kar-Wai.” At the very low key press-conference, actors Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Tony Leung Chiu-wai address the press. The event is moderated by Robert Gray.
Finally, the disc includes a collection of six TV Spots and Trailers, one of each for Hong Kong, The U.S., and France.
The 44-page insert booklet includes an essay by author Steve Erickson, and the short story “Intersection” by Liu Yi-chang which “provided thematic inspiration” for the film. It has been translated into English by Nancy Li. There is no longer a “Note from the Director” as was included in the 2002 booklet.
The two 2012 interviews with Tony Rayns are the only new features on this re-release and though they are both fine, they are certainly not reason enough to double dip. However, the 1080p transfer will be reason enough for devotees of the film that put a capper on Wong Kar-Wai's run as one of the preeminent directors of the end of the 20th century. It's hard to believe he was barely in his forties at the time of production.