What's more fun than stepping into a darkened theater to soak up the feel of a country through its culture, landscapes, and lifestyles as depicted in a foreign film?
What's more fun than stepping into a darkened theater to soak up the feel of a country through its culture, landscapes, and lifestyles as depicted in a foreign film? Thanks to the deserved demise of dubbing, we can still absorb nuance and character through the inflections of actors speaking in their native language. It was a surprise, then, to feel adrift while watching In the Mood for Love, a much heralded film bearing multiple film festival prizes. Below par subtitles don't lead us well through an otherwise appealing mood of smoldering restraint and controlled passion. Writer/director Wong Kar-wai plays cinematic games with his script, cutting back and forth in time, trying different endings on mid-film situations, leading us without subtitled explanation on a puzzling trip through time and location.
It is 1962 in Hong Kong, and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung, Best Actor award at Cannes) is looking for a room to rent. Answering an ad, he learns from Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan) that she has just rented the room to Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), but he may have the newly vacant room down the hall.
Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan suffer marriages with an absent spouse-"away on business." As the two begin to realize their partners are having an affair with each other, their own initial attraction grows deeper. But this is a movie about restraint and propriety, so the story moves toward honor and suffering rather than realization.
At very long last, the honorable Mr. Chow asks the beautiful Mrs.Chan to run away with him to Singapore. She refuses with sadness, and we are dropped into a melancholy mood of longing and searching. When they nearly meet years later in their old building, it is a little, but only a little, like watching Omar Sharif and Julie Christie's near miss in Dr. Zhivago. Given their determined propriety, let it be said that their unexpressed emotions fill the screen, a refreshing change from Hollywood's insistence on turning every love story into "See Dick and Jane make love."
The culture of the movie is both alien and fascinating. Mrs. Suen's house is a warren of small rooms that contain whole lives. When her friends play mah-jongg, the din rises as a high-pitched giggle. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan spend evenings together eating takeout noodles in a room just big enough to hold a bed and a chair.
For an American, the claustrophobic feel of the tiny, cramped apartments and offices that confine these two elegant people is a sharp reminder of how we waste our own surroundings. I admit to being baffled by a score dominated by Nat King Cole, and a little ashamed that it is somehow easier to identify with a swordsman in ancient Scotland or a Spanish Civil War idealist than it is to understand this nearly contemporary couple in Hong Kong. This is indeed an East/West problem, but that's OK; we'll learn.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 492
Studio : USA Films
Rating : PG
Running time : 1h11m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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