In 1960s Hong Kong, two new neighbors find that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. These neighbors, Su and Chow, pass each other day after day, noticing one another on rainy nights on their way to get noodles, or seeing each other coming and going in the narrow stairway of their apartment building. Their partners are constantly gone – supposedly away at a late night of work or on a multi-week business trip in Japan. As Su and Chow begin to see less and less of their partners, those glances on rainy nights and in stairwells become a comfort, leading to a dinner together and the revelation that they both know of their spouses’ infidelity. Thus begins their plan – not to cheat and stoop down to that level, but to use each other to reenact the infidelity; to understand what it may have been that led to the cheating in the first place.
In the Mood for Love explores Su and Chow investigating love and infidelity while trying to remain platonic, trying to not get caught up with each other as their spouses did. Yet, the pain of their discovery paired with the loneliness of their apartment lives leads them to develop something stronger than friendship. They act through the scenes of their partners’ inciting moments, learning and fictionalizing the dialogue and motions that occurred. However, unknown to them at first, each of these scenes plays a part in their own relationship – the tender moments in the backs of cabs, silently sitting across the booth in a restaurant, in close quarters hiding in a room so as not to be found out. Each of these moments are exactly as a couple would do, and despite them being purely meant to discover the relationship of another, they themselves begin to fall in love.
The music, some of the most beautiful ever set to a film, plays a part in their relationship as well. The violin picks up the melancholy, loneliness, and hurt that they have experienced, while the plucks that set the rhythm mimic their tiptoeing around, their curiosity, and their hidden desires. The song always plays at those moments of self-discovery, when they dive into revelatory moments of internal meditation either alone or with each other. And as their unsaid love begins to deepen while their uncertainty of how to continue their relationship grows, this theme vanishes for Nat King Cole’s Quizas. It is a song of “maybes”. They dance around their love, feigning the purpose of their relationship, as they now depend on each other for affection and belonging. They refuse to admit it – to admit that they have fallen in the same trap that their spouses fell into, that they are no longer acting the part, and that, maybe, their love is an outburst of the fiction they have been creating and reenacting.
Of course, their love is not a maybe. As Chow decides he must leave for Singapore they begin to say goodbyes and use their acting to express these farewells without admitting it, putting reality in the guise of a rehearsal. Years later, Su and Chow still remember those days spent together, and they seek one another knowing that they could not build something again – that their relationship was formed on the basis of pain and heartbreak, and that their exploration revealed to them things about themselves they struggle to cope with. Now they are alone either raising children or trekking through temples. They reveal their secrets by whispering into walls or looking out the window they had stared out of many times before. In their eyes, there does not appear to be hope or satisfaction. But out of their secrets seem to grow life, a small green plant sprouting out of soil, breaking through the plug that was set to hold their secret at bay; almost as if their own personal secrets hold something greater, something that cannot be held back.
See my Letterboxd review here: Letterboxd
See other movie reviews or what I plan to watch next here: Movie Review