When one thinks about the most famous, influential, or best romantic films of all time, there are always a few staples that always seem to float towards the top. In the genre of the romantic comedy, the Meg Ryan-lead comedies of the late 1980’s and early 90’s such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle spring to mind, as well as the string of Julia Roberts films in the 90’s including Pretty Woman. Or for the more inclined cinephile, they look kindly upon the screwball comedies of the 1930’s such as Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night, which possess their own wonderful charm. For those more acclimated to drama, romance offers no shortage of fantastic selections to choose from including the ever-withstanding classic Casablanca, The Apartment, and the Romeo and Juliet recreation in West Side Story. While respected and loved among groups of hardcore cinephiles, there is an area that is neglected among the average filmgoers and that is the area of foreign-language films. There is an absolute untapped treasure trove of foreign-language films from across the globe among countless differing cultures that are as fantastic and heart wrenching as anything produced in America or in the UK. One of my favorites among foreign-language romance films is Wong Kar-Wai’s beautiful, expressionistic, and passionate film In the Mood for Love. It’s among the most stunning and emotionally gripping films of all time. It tugs at your heartstrings and makes you ponder the existence of love.
In the Mood for Love is the simple story of two neighbors in 1962 Hong Kong, played masterfully by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung and Maggie Cheung. They live in the same apartment building and spend time together in close proximity and grow to be close friends. However, they both suspect their spouses of having extramarital affairs, possibly with each other. They find relief in their connection and form strong emotional bonds amongst themselves but refuse to consummate their relationship to avoid acting like their disloyal spouses.
As a result, the feeling of sexual tension permeates the entire film. Each scene, each shot, each movement of the main characters towards each other drips in desire, exudes lust, and radiates a sentiment of unconsummated love and the frustration that it causes. As the film continues, as the character’s bond grows stronger, as they start copying their spouse’s mannerisms, their infatuation with each other oozes off the screen and provides an unforgettable film experience.
Those feelings would be prevalent in the film, no matter the cast, director, or cinematographer, but these additional elements all work harmoniously with each other and elevate the film to another plane of art. Cheung and Leung don’t have any grand Shakespearean monologues or arguments which showcase the actor’s full abilities. It’s the subtleties in their movements within the frame and the intonation in their voices when they speak, whether in the moments of tender affection or the high stress moments that accompany all relationships, that make their performances special and unforgettable. Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle were two masters working together in tandem to create some of the most breathtaking shots and highlight the mood of the film. They focus on small movements and endow them with meaning, creating shots that reflected the closed-off mental states the main characters each experienced.
In the Mood for Love is among the most emotionally resonant films I’ve ever seen. The masterful performances by Leung and Cheung reverberated around my skull for an extended period after I first watched this stunning film. I felt strangely attracted to the theme of the complications of love and the dejected feeling that may arise. It’s a fantastic romance film because it accurately displays a burgeoning romance between two individuals and keeps you hoping for a happy resolution to their love story.