With seductive pop love stories like Chungking Express and Happy Together, Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai has developed an intoxicating style that reaches beyond the shopworn conventions of traditional storytelling and into a more abstract realm of human emotion. His unique virtuosity has often been compared to the improvisational riffs of a jazz artist, with straight scenes dropped in favor of rhymes, repetition, and dizzying impressions. Set in the sad yet deeply romanticized world of Hong Kong in the early to mid-'60s, Wong's ravishingly beautiful In The Mood For Love may be classified as a period piece, but only in the technical sense. In detailing the intimate friendship and love between two unhappily married lonelyhearts, Wong collects vivid moments out of time as they might play out in a person's memory many years later. Shots of the couple first brushing shoulders on a flight of stairs or sharing an umbrella in a heavy downpour are slowed down to poignant effect, as if they wished these fleeting instants would last an eternity. Hong Kong icons Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two of the most beautiful people on the planet, make such a natural pair that their unexplained attraction to each other can be simply accepted as a given. By fateful coincidence, they move into neighboring apartments in the same building on the same afternoon, soon discovering that their lives intersect in other, more significant ways. Neglected by their spouses, who are never seen, they foster a special kinship and spend a lot of time together, but social mores dictate that their relationship must be kept secret, even though it's strictly (if tenuously) platonic. Like other Wong films, In The Mood For Love captures the inherent alienation of city life, but in the process, he intensifies the romantic longing between the two characters. Their unrequited love, imposed by a society that subtly conspires to keep them apart, is so flush with emotion and possibility that it becomes the most vibrant shade in Wong's colorful palette. Further complemented by the gentle lull of Nat King Cole songs, In The Mood For Love casts a dreamy and melancholic spell that remains unbroken long after the closing credits have rolled.
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If Jesse Armstrong wanted Jeremy Strong to jump in a river, he would have put it in the script