Wong Kar-wai was always well regarded by me, but I think he just went up a few notches in my book. In the Mood for Love sits squarely at or near the top of my list of the best films to come out of the East. After a while of watching the film, and loving damn near every second, I started purposefully looking for flaws, and by the end I had pretty much come up with nothing. Now, in hindsight, the only flaw I could tentatively come up with is some pacing issues in the plot, but that may be just me nitpicking to fill in issues or mistakes that may not even be there. The story, or premise, is a simple one; two new neighbors find out their spouses are having an affair with each other, and grow closer themselves in their response to the infidelity. Like I said, simple, but amazingly effective; not as a purely romantic film, but as a film about a romance that is never fully brought to the surface.
This is by far the most evolved Wong Kar-wai film I’ve seen. Everything, from the cinematography, the framing and lighting of the shots, to the editing, to the acting, to the placement of the music; everything just screamed the craftsmanship of a master filmmaker at or nearing the top of his game. There was an artistry, a poeticism behind every aspect of the film, that upped the quality and made the film greater than its sum. The main players, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, are perfectly cast and give note-for-note perfect performances; really, there was nary a flaw to be found in them. As for the story, it too took its time, but there were several decisions I particularly enjoyed. For one, the film keeps its focus squarely on the protagonists, and all the other characters are merely ancillary to the main plot. The spouses of the main characters are never seen; they are not important. It is their actions that have brought the two main characters together that are of importance, and little else. Each supporting character and subplot is there to serve the needs of the main plot, and anything and everything else is excised. I also read a number of reviews about this one complaining of the languid pacing; frankly, I don’t know what film these people were watching. The pacing of the story was moderate, maybe a little slow, but the editing, especially in the beginning, was absolutely rapid-fire; the plot and the relationship between the two protagonists, that they are new neighbors and that their spouses are often away from home, is established in the first three to five minutes, where other films will take the whole first half hour to do the same. There’s also a recurring musical motif that pops up to pass the time in between the chance encounters between the protagonists. I liked it; it was a nice, constant reminder of their evolving relationship.
I found a quote from a review of this film that I liked; this is “the consummate unconsummated love story of the new millennium”. Bam; dead on right there. Sight and Sound’s recent 2012 poll of the greatest films of all time placed this at 24, making it the highest ranked film of the 2000s; the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of 1000 all-time greatest films has this at 59, which makes it the most acclaimed film from the world cinema since its 2000 release. I list these credentials to put the final nail in the coffin of any hesitancy you or anyone may have in watching this film. This film, at a mere hour and a half, accomplishes more than so many other films twice or even three times its length, that it just makes my opinion of those needlessly long films that much more denigrated. This is how you tell a story, and this is how you craft that story into one hell of a fine film. This will be only the third 10 I’ve given this year, but this one sure earned it.
Arbitrary Rating: 10/10