“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 to 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” 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.
Though listed as a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the video image looks like it has a ratio of 1.75:1 or even 1.85:1. I was surprised at how well the film looks after being transferred to DVD. Normally, only the latest Hollywood blockbuster appears so richly detailed and clean as the format is very unforgiving when it comes to print defects. You can see that the film stock used by the filmmakers probably exhibited a lot of grain in movie theatres, but the grain has been minimized and pushed to the background by the folks at Criterion. The deep reds and oranges of “In the Mood for Love’s” color palette positively glow, and the smooth imaging looks gorgeous.
Originally a stereo/stereo surround mix in theatres, the soundtrack for “In the Mood for Love” benefits from a Dolby Digital 5.0 remastering for the DVD format. There are three primary audio tracks for the main feature: Dolby Digital 5.0 Cantonese/Shanghainese, DD 2.0 surround Cantonese/Shanghainese, and DD 2.0 music/sound-effects-only track. The DD 5.0 is very immersive and impressive. Though lacking in a 0.1 subwoofer feed, the sound mix produces plenty of bass when music is playing. In fact, bass filled my room very nicely–since the low end sounds came courtesy of music, the experience was much more pleasant than listening to explosions-created-bass-response in action movies.
The rear channels are actively employed as well. It rains quite often in the movie, and the sound design immerses the viewer in that wet atmosphere. Environmental and background noises emanate from the rear speakers as well, giving you the sense that you’re in the middle of crowded Hong Kong much as the characters are.
Optional English subtitles support the audio.
The trippiest thing about the music/sound-effects-only track is that you can watch the film with subtitles as if it were a silent film from the early days of cinema (keeping in mind that silent films were usually accompanied by music and title cards).
The Criterion Collection has been offering quite a number of loaded two-disc sets recently, from “Armageddon” (yes, THAT “Armageddon”) to “Spartacus,” from “Rebecca” to “8½,” from “Children of Paradise” to, now, “In the Mood for Love.” This DVD set offers the most extensive use of motion menus in a Criterion DVD release to date. This set also offers a wealth of information that is exciting and rewarding to view because the bonus materials show you the many paths that the filmmakers could’ve taken in the construction of the final product. (By the way, both DVDs are RSDL dual-layered discs.)
On Disc One, you will find four of those nearly-infamous deleted scenes. The final cut of the film ends during the late-1960s, but there’s a deleted scene on Disc One that takes the story into the 1970s. Su Li-zhen now owns the apartment that she used to rent, and Chow Mo-wan’s second wife comes knocking on the door to see if she can buy the place. Scenes such as this one show how Wong Kar-Wai’s fractured love story could’ve continued to take place well after the film’s final frames. The deleted scenes come with optional audio commentary by Wong Kar-Wai (in Cantonese with optional English subtitles that translate the director’s comments).
“The Music of ‘In the Mood for Love'” is an interactive essay of text pages with links to key moments in the film that have important music cues. As the title of the piece indicates, the essay discusses the use of a varied slate of musical touches in order to re-create the colorful spectrum of Hong Kong radio broadcasts during the 1960s.
Disc One also includes “Hua Yang De Nian Hua,” a short film by Wong Kar-Wai.
Once again, Criterion included color bars on one of their releases so that home video viewers may calibrate the color of their viewing monitor.
The most important extra on these two discs is probably “@ In the Mood for Love,” a documentary about the making of the film. Behind-the-scenes footage comprises the majority of the documentary, and you get a chance to see even more scenes that were shot but never used for the final cut. There are scenes of the two principal characters eating in various locations, conversing in different places, and even getting intimate. The viewer is left hungry, wanting to know even more about the history of such a complex shoot.
Though Disc One does not have an audio commentary, there are a couple of interviews with producer/writer/director Wong Kar-wai. During these interview clips, Mr. Wong talks about a variety of issues related to the film’s production and themes. The stars of “In the Mood for Love,” Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, have their own opportunity to discuss what they feel about the film in the included Toronto International Film Festival press conference.
There’s an essay (text pages) by film scholar Gina Marchetti that discusses the film’s settings. There’s also a photo gallery, and there are biographies/filmographies of principal cast and crew members. Finally, there is an extensive array of theatrical trailers and TV spots used around the world as well as an electronic press kit and other promotional items considered for the film’s commercial campaign.
A massive insert booklet (48 pages!) contains the short story “Intersection” (written by Liu Yi-chang), liner notes, a note from the director, chapter listings, film production credits, and DVD production credits.
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.
Words fail to describe the obvious attention and care lavished on the creation of this two-disc DVD set for “In the Mood for Love.” I always value quality over quantity, so I tend to rate Criterion DVDs fairly well in the Extras department even when a look at the DVD cover art indicates that a big Hollywood release may have “more” bonus materials than the average Criterion disc. However, when Criterion piles on the quantity in ADDITION to their usual quality, then you know for sure that you’ve got a winning DVD. “In the Mood for Love” is one such DVD.