The film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history—it may be my go-to example now when discussing film form—along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Toyko Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch—a combination of Greenaway’s stylistic maximums (and form), Jarmusch’s repetition
A meditation on nostalgia- a love story of unrequited love (the best kind of cinematic love stories) like that of Casablanca.
The violins in the score by as Mike Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi – repetition
So the editor, costume and production designer is the same person? Holy hell- William Chang— they’re all impeccable
Trademark costume Maggie Cheung’s dresses, immaculate style- ties and handbags in the text
Formal genius- slow-motion sequences, triggered by the same violin musical score as they have chance encounters in the hallway, alley—smoke and rain—always at night
Nat King Cole repetition when they meet officially
Their spouses faces are never shown- another formal choice—they are heard, phone calls, back of the hands, outside the doors- there’s no resolution—like Antonioni and L’Avventura– and we get a specific POV like Spielberg in E.T. showing adults (or not showing them) in a certain way
Fate and chance—looking for a house on the same day, moving the same day—the word coincidence in the text no less than five times
Use of floral arrangements in the production design and costume design patters
elliptical—a feat of editing—we’re getting glimpses between the two like Pawlikowski’s Cold War
It’s not elliptical- but we have to mention Brief Encounter from David Lean
Half-open doorways giving beauty and depth to the focus in mise-en-scene(Ozu), passing each other on stairs
The Siemens clocks repetition (form), shallow focus on actors not one of the two main subjects
Adultery all around them—her boss, Tony Leung’s co-worker—theirs is a story of restraint and understated love
Neon lights in abundance- actual lights as part of the mise-en-scene in foreground
obstruction of mise-en-scene
Musical cues again- goes to Nat once they become an item
Like Chungking Express it’s all night work—it’s a little abrasive when it’s day
So much formal repetition- she goes to the movies, talking to neighbors
Ozu’s depth of field hallway shots— shot between bars
The form absolutely works on you over the course of the film and repeat viewings—its consuming
A tone poem—clearly like a short story stretched out to 98 minutes
The hallway of Leung’s hotel is a stunner—the red drapes flowing in from the window- symmetry
Wallpaper in the décor, loaded with mirrors, drapes, floral arrangement
I’ve mentioned many other directors from Dreyer to Greenaway—I could see it being a combination of Jarmusch and Malick as well—the formal rigor and genius-level photography—Malick isn’t perfect because he shoots nature and WKW shoots cities—but I’m having a hard time finding another auteur who shot films as handsome as the two of them—Michael Mann maybe- I mean Mann makes beautiful urban films but again never quite like this
The two leads are utterly brilliant and this is the crowning achievement in their illustrious careers clearly- they’re complex, they love each other, an earned love, but they’re also hurting from their failed marriages
The scene of their tragic goodbye- posted on the brick wall with shadows—gorgeous mise-en-scene- shots of them leaning against the wall as the camera moves back and forth
The film perfectly captures how you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone
great scene of them shown blocked by doorway as camera glides between walls
The epilogue is strange, lovely- whispers into the structure—stunning and haunting
Lyrical, poetical, fantastical, incredible. Brilliant acting, cinematography, editing and the music tho. (Oh. my. god). Capital M Masterpiece.
Drake I LOVE your website and how easy it is to use but I do have one suggestion for you. Is there any way I can see when you most recently updated a page? For example on your 2000 page you have In the Mood for Love 2nd. However on your 2000s page you have In the Mood for Love as the greatest film. (Even on your top 500 in the mood for love is the highest 2000s film). This confuses me a bit. Maybe (if its possible), you could add when you most recently made an update.
My favorite of every decade:
1920s – Joan
30s- City Lights
50s – Vertigo
70s- The Godfather
80s – Raging Bull
90s Schindlers list
00s – In the Mood for Love
10s – The tree of life.
I just realised that we have the same favorite movie of the decade in 6/10 decades. Thats a bit insane tbh.
@Azman– Yeah. I’m going to substitute the word “favorite” for best. We both think these are the best movies of the decade. Fair? And yeah- pretty insane. You can go even further. When we don’t agree (1930’s, 1950’s, 1970’s) your choice is often my #2 film, or #3. Not something I would have a big problem with obviously.
@Azman…I’m so happy to hear you love the website. Thanks for the kind words. As for the confusion, sorry, each page’s web address should have the date I publish/write it. Like this page’s web address is http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/03/25/in-the-mood-for-love-2000-kar-wai-wong/ so it was published on March 25th, 2019. I wish i had a better system but it would be too much to go back and update all the places every time I see a film. I hope this helps.
Thanks drake, that clears up my confusion. Your in the mood for love and top 500 pages were updated in 2019 whereas your 2000 page has a publishing date of 2017. So I guess it took you 2 years to realise that not only was In the mood for love the best film of 2000, but it was the best film of the decade.
@Azman– correct. It was more about a repeat viewing (the one on this page in March 2019) than the time but the time to let it sit and process helps as well.
Ok, i’m starting to think i’m lucky, this will be projected.
Has anyone seen this in the theater? I guess it must be a great experience
Obviously i will attend.
I have not. Enjoy. I actually don’t think watching films in the cinema enhances the experience much for me, if at all.
I saw the movie 7 months ago at home.
I don’t watch too many movies in the theatre.
Enjoy the film though!
Agreed. TV is a big enough screen for me, but if I get the opportunity to see a movie in the theater I’ll probably do that.
There’s a Wong Kar-Wai retrospective festival coming to Sydney in January which I’m looking forward to. He’s a filmmaker I’m drastically under-educated on, mostly because it’s just so hard to access his movies in Australia. I watched Chungking Express at film school, and I’m getting In the Mood for Love on DVD for Christmas ($50 for one that works in my region, a bit pricey but what can you do). So I’m really going to make the most of this festival when it rolls around.
@Declan- sounds amazing- please chime in when you get to check them out
Have you seen the new restorations of his movies? particularly this one, if so what did you think?
Others are Fallen angels, Chungking express.
I guess the version you saw was the criterion version so you should notice the changes.
Apparently WKW took the Lucas route.
@Aldo- I do not think I have seen the new restorations
Well, here you can see what it is about. What do you think about this?
Im loving reading all of your insights into different films so far
As a ‘newbie’ of sorts I’m not quite sure I understand when you refer to the “form” of the film
I have a general idea but a concrete answer would be much appreciated
@Victor- good question- that one does come up quite a bit- form is tougher to describe. I have a few links here that should help- none of them take long to ready up on- worth the time spent to check each out in my opinion https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199587261.001.0001/acref-9780199587261-e-0277
Thank you, Much appreciated
I’m not lying, i have read this review at least 20 times, great review.
Your review is really very useful.
It’s funny how things change, the first time i saw this movie it was very boring, i couldn’t understand why the critics held them in high esteem.
In my second visualization i liked and understood why this was so admired, the story still didn’t seem like much to me, it seemed like a simple romance.
This is probably my sixth viewing, the second in three months.
I have seen the original version in the theater and also the restored, so i can comment, i saw this yesterday at the theater.
I must admit that there are some scenes that got me out of visualization, in some scenes it looks like a Fincher movie, the movie is supposed to have a vivid red color palette.
For example the scenes of the red corridor do not look so vivid, it was a very intense red, it was attenuated.
Another example is the interior of apartment 2046, the colors of the tapestry are not so vivid either.
It is not as horrible a restoration as everyone says, but it has great defects.
Finally i must thank, before entering this site i had never heard about film form. Between the repeated views of this movie i have come to understand it better.
I think that in general 2046 is a sadder movie than In the mood for love
@Aldo- that’s great- I love hearing that you have read the review so many times and glad to hear it on this film here helping sync film form for you. I’m actually overdue for a 2046 revisit.
This review is still so useful, i am going to declare it the best review on the site haha
I have some questions, i hope you can answer.
1. This is the only movie they didn’t remove from WKW, i saw it a month ago, what would be the ideal time to see it again? I’m planning to see it again, but i don’t know if it’s too soon.
2. How long did it take you to appreciate it? i’ll explain on the 2000 page WH ranks first, but on the all time list it is the highest rated film since 1980, so certainly your appreciation for the movie increased.
3. Have you found any reviews (apart from your review) useful? Most of the reviews i’ve read are pretty bad, they talk about such superficial things, none of them talk about the form. I would be very grateful if you could share other reviews of the movie that you think are good.
4. Is there any other movie with more style in the history of cinema? i’m having a hard time trying to find one. Literally this movie is the pinnacle of cinema, jump cuts, freeze frames, repetition, slow motion, depth of field, doors like frame (ozu), frame obstruction, camera movement, form, windows like frame (renoir). Maybe Goodfellas? is the only other, it would still give ITMFT a huge advantage, i think i shared this before but it needs to be reiterated, his work combines the playfulness and disenchantment of Godard, the visual fantasias of Fellini, the chic existentialism of Antonioni, and Bergman brooding uncertainties. It’s a combination of all the great filmmakers, just much more modern.
@Aldo- I certainly appreciate the kind words about this review- thank you!
1. For me it always depends on a number of factors- but sometimes I get scared about not being able to find a certain movie again so I’ll watch it twice right away. Haha. But I don’t think you can overwatch a movie like In the Mood for Love.
2. This is connected to #1 here but my appreciation for the film has grown with every viewing. I think I’m on viewing six maybe? So it took years and many viewings.
3. Great question– I’m sure I have but none that come to mind immediately. I know Bordwell adores WKW but am not sure on writings on In the Mood for Love specifically. I’ll try to do a better job of linking out great reviews. I just saw American Graffiti and was impressed by Dave Kehr’s work so I linked out to it (or will when I post).
4. So this here with #4 is very well written Aldo. I love your line about Godard, Fellini, Antonioni and Bergman. But I would agree. Citizen Kane? Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc?
For your question #4, I think it’s necessary to mention Magnolia (a multitude of editing, structural, and camera movement techniques), the boxing sequences of Raging Bull (dollies, tracking shots, freeze frames, jump cuts, expressionist lighting, slow motion), and the work of Spike Lee (dutch angles, jump cuts, color design, and more)
Hello, Drake. I hope you’re doing very well.
This is a question I’ve been meaning to ask and it’s not exactly about ITMFL, but since you champion it as one of the best examples of formal cinema, I’m going to ask it here.
Should every film be seen through a formal perspective? I mean, surely there are films that are not exactly formal works, but then… what are they? There are formal elements in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but you mostly describe them as high-wire acts. I just feel a bit lost. If I watch a film, should I try to find formal markers? If not, what am I looking for?
I’m sorry for bombarding you with questions, but I’m sure you’ve been in my place before. I hope to one day be in yours.
Thank you so much already!
@pedro- hopefully others will share their thoughts here as well. So the formal patterns and/or relations exist within a film whether the director/artist intends it or whether we notice it or not. Others have made note that on the site here I’m usually talking about style and not form perhaps as much as I should be. And I think that’s fair (though the two are often intertwined). When you see me noting it here it is usually to highlight especially exceptional work (like In the Mood for Love) or when a film “cheats” and exhibits poor form (like say using a voice-over to explain context for a particular scene when it hasn’t set up voice-over, etc).
I don’t know if I’m helping at all. I’m sorry. “Should every film be seen through a formal perspective?” I think yes– but it doesn’t always stand out and I don’t always note it (often my notes on a film are 300 words). I may talk about it at length with In the Mood for Love and not much at all with Magnolia when maybe a deeper dive on PTA’s film in this area is warranted.
It is not something I can always pick up on with a first viewing. Yes, the narrative structure is tied to form– but there is a visual form to a film as well (at least most of the great ones). For me, I look at the editing choices, the camera movement (or lack thereof- which is also a choice), the distance of the camera, the angles, the way the director designs the frame (or mise-en-scene)… is it exceptional? If so, I try to note it. Is it repeated? If it is, we have the makings of visual film form. Is it tied to the narrative? That makes it even better. Or is it just a one-off beautiful shot? camera movement or editing sequence?
@Drake – Awesome. Thank you very much, that’s very insightful!
When you grade a film, do you have a specific criteria or grading system. For example do you say have 5 categories and give a certain number of points to each category type of thing or is it less formal? And of course it doesn’t have to be 5 I was just throwing out a number
Just curious, I have a style of mine that’s still a work in progress
@James Trapp- I used to have a set of criteria and try to do a point system. The problem with that is some films have say exceptional camera movement, and others purposefully have a static camera. So when you look at items like editing, camera movement, mise-en-scene, etc. I look at those things. Are they dedicated to a specific and repeated style? How ambitious is what they’re trying to set out to do. I look at realism vs. expressionism, the voice of the narrative vehicle (is it engaging? is it consistent?). Certainly I do look at writing, acting, music and sound design. Does the director or film have a plan and structure for it all (form)? There’s just too much to do a points system in my opinion. That’s why I do the comparisons with other films. There are “perfect” films that simply aren’t artistically ambitious if that makes sense.
[…] In the Mood for Love – WKW […]
I recently had the luck of listening to Shigeru Umebayashi live in Athens. It was conducted by a maestro called Dirk Brossé and they played many of his compositions, it was absolutely wonderful. What I realised while there was that Umebayashi’s music played an integral part in WKW transcending his style and achieving formal perfection – In the Mood for Love and 2046 set a particular difference in tone, when compared with his previous work. WKW and Umebayashi were a match made in heaven should you think of it – their collaboration sort of changed the trajectory of both their careers.
@Georg- I love this Georg- thank you for sharing. What an awesome event!
Just finished this for the first time and I already feel like I need to go back and rewatch. The style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from anyone else. There’s SO much here. I’m blown away by the structure/flow of this movie, it’s like clockwork. It’s so systematically precise and I feel like a rewatch focusing on just that is needed immediately haha. Both leads, the music, and the visual style are among the best I’ve really ever came across as well.
I’m very excited to get to some others of WKW’s (this was my first). Chungking Express next
@Matthew – “There’s SO much here.”— indeed! well done Matthew. Enjoy.
Criterion released another version of In the Mood for Love; a 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray Combo Pack includes one 4K UHD disc of the film + one Blu-ray with the film and special features.
I have the WKW Criterion Box Set so just curious as to why they decided to do another 4K restoration given that the 7 films in the box set which of course includes a 4K restoration so just wondering if it’s worth getting as well
@James – I watched this film for the fourth time last night, it was my first with the Criterion 4K and though this is not a popular opinion I do think it’s now my favourite way to see the film and the jade colouring elevates so much. Though I think the boxset has this colour grading too so you probably don’t need to upgrade, I was just even more blown away this viewing by the new look and I’ve raised the film to my #14 of all time currently.