Despite the extremely soppy title this is far from a typical Valentine’s Day rom-com. Instead of the gushy and predictable dross that we see churned out by Hollywood studios, In the Mood for Love is a perfect example of a romance movie done well. I had never been much of a fan of this kind of film that holds one relationship as the main focus. This movie, released in 2000, is probably the single biggest factor in my change of opinion. The Hong Kong based melodrama showed me that the nuance and complexity of a relationship can be properly portrayed on film.
Without giving into all of the low hanging tropes associated with romance movies, In the Mood for Love masterfully crafts the lives of the two main characters and their complex feelings for each other. Set in the overcrowded inner city of Hong Kong, the whole film really only takes place in a handful of different rooms, as well as the beautiful rain-soaked streets. This setting is largely what drew me in to the film. The world that has been created using only a few locations, many of which are indoors, and yet you feel totally engrossed in the character’s lives. The use of colour in the shop fronts and interior decorations contrasts with the often dimly lit streets and gloomy monsoon weather.
Throughout the film the strange familiarity yet alien feel of Hong Kong is stark. The city created in In the Mood for Love, whether it is a realistic portrayal of Hong Kong or not, is tied up in contemporary British aesthetics and traditional Chinese culture. This too was another contributing factor to my love for this movie. There is something almost jarring about seeing office space that looks recognisable from old British TV shows alongside a magnificently dressed Hongkonger woman in a Chinese dress. This culturally homogenised city captivates you almost instantly and it left me with a desire to find out more about Hong Kong.
As for the story, which is obviously the main focus of any romance film, the beauty of the setting carries through to the story. Tradition and modernism meet yet again in the lives of these two young professionals who, by chance, end up living next door to each other in flat-sharing situations. Both of our main protagonists are married to their own respective partners, but we soon find that these marriages are far from perfect. The people who we view Hong Kong through seem often frustrated and are rarely happy apart from in the strange awkward moments that they share with each other. Both know that there is not much that they can do about their respective situations but take pleasure in bumping into each other in the hall or when returning from work.
Their refusal to act on their clear fondness for each other likely speaks for a traditional view of marriage as the bond that cannot be broken. Despite the suspected infidelity in both relationships the two refuse to stoop to the lows of cheating on their partner. Here they are caught between traditional values and modernising world that surrounds them. They are faced with the ultimate decision between upholding their vows or acting on their true emotions. The pain that this decision inflicts on the pair is masterfully conveyed, and both actors should be applauded for such a convincing display. I don’t want to completely spoil this movie for anyone looking for something to watch, but the ending is one of the most emotional ends to a film that I think I have ever seen. Much of In the Mood for Love’s beauty lies in the subtlety and unspoken. For anyone bored by American portrayals of superficial love I can’t recommend this movie enough.
Words by Ewan Blacklaw