Sunday Times

Old but good

- Tymon Smith

In the Mood for Love (2001)

I was 20 and in the grip of un­re­quited love back in the age when Cinema Nou­veau still screened ac­tual art films in for­eign lan­guages with sub­ti­tles. I have a dis­tinct rec­ol­lec­tion of go­ing to see Wong Kar-Wai’s achingly beau­ti­ful, heart­break­ing and sen­sual evo­ca­tion of un­re­solved at­trac­tion in ’60s Hong Kong in the com­pany of the woman I was pin­ing for, but think­ing back that may be a de­tail I’ve em­bel­lished — it may have been an­other woman I was qui­etly hop­ing would see me with ro­mance-tinged eyes. Ei­ther way, it be­came ap­par­ent soon into the film that it was ob­vi­ously “about us”. The yearn­ing strings of Shigeru Um­beyasi’s soar­ing theme song as the unattain­able Mag­gie Che­ung slunk through the rainy night in her flower-pat­terned skirt, watched by the mourn­fully hand­some cig­a­rette-smok­ing Tony Le­ung drenched in lus­cious yel­low and red light by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Christo­pher Doyle was al­most too much to bear.

As a bur­geon­ing, self-taught, over­ly­hun­gry cinephile I’d seen Kar-Wai’s other tales of strained ro­man­tic con­nec­tions in the bustling, crowded mod­ern world — Happy To­gether and Chunk­ing Ex­press. They were also mas­ter­ful works of the power of film to evoke deep emo­tion by show­ing not telling, but this, his first film made af­ter the han­dover of Hong Kong from Bri­tish to Chi­nese con­trol, was a rev­e­la­tion. Never had I seen such an evo­ca­tion of ten­sion and heartache and a bring­ing into the dark light of the the­atre the sen­su­al­ity of the heat and light and feel­ing of a sweaty sum­mer and the de­sires of two lonely souls trapped in a world that would not al­low for the kind of happy-for­ever-end­ing so of­ten per­pet­u­ated by Hol­ly­wood, but so for­eign to the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of most of us. When the lights came up, my com­pan­ion and I looked at each other, wiped away our quiet tears and went back to our sep­a­rate worlds. A glut­ton for pun­ish­ment, I was back in the cinema a day later, watch­ing and wish­ing and cry­ing on my own, dream­ing of Mag­gie Che­ung, ev­ery­thing else for­given, for­got­ten and ir­rel­e­vant.

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