Old but good
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.