Saturday, June 17, 2006

Texture + intimacy = "In the Mood for Love"

Subject: Cinema
A while back, Bee Train Fan member Ombrenuit posted a review of Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love", which prompted me to put it in my rental queue to fight for a spot amongst all of the anime I've been sampling. I'm purposefully not re-reading it at the moment so I can try to put my own impressions down without influence.

It was a bit accidental that it showed up at all just yet, as I'm still kind of sensitive about emotional situations, and really don't want to mess with moody programming for a while. Thankfully, as moody a piece as this was, it was all about romantic relationships as opposed to familial/parental ones, and I was able to handle it without nary an issue.

Part of that may be because I didn't get emotionally hooked at all.

No, it's not the fault of the film, per se. In fact, there was nothing actually wrong with it, and I was quite satisfied with it. A lot to like. But I was just a spectator... no, a voyeur, of a series of very intimate and personal moments in the lives of two characters. I was watching it while being kept at arms-length.

It's not for lack of empathy, as the two leads, Mr. Chow & Mrs. Chan, are very human and noble, and their suffering is barely masked by their attempt to maintain their individual dignity. It's not for a lack of "place" -- the sets and the costume design are exquisite and detailed, providing for a rich layer of detail in their surroundings that draw you in and hint at many layers of the experience that don't need to be expounded in the narrative.

So this was a good film. But I never really connected; I never quite identified with the characters. Like I said, I was the voyeur, kept at arms-length. The fact that we never learn the leads' given names leads me to believe that was probably on purpose. If I were to guess, I'd figure that it has something to do with a certain level of Asian formality (which I'm only speculating about, and have no experience in), which I think makes a great contrast with what is otherwise a very intimate and personal exposure of two individuals worthy of a European classic. It just wasn't a personal experience that rang true with a cold-hearted bastid like myself... *cough*

Thankfully, I don't actually have to "connect" to appreciate it. The storytelling was involving, and the only rare moment where I broke from that was when there'd be an unusual edit or subtle symbol that would take me out of the moment and make me wonder what he was trying to accomplish there. But that's just my old film-school reflexes kicking in. No foul there. And, of course, Critereon's DVD transfer was outstanding, which really made my evening. *grin*

The only thing that bugged me is that it almost fell apart at the end. Partly I have to blame my lack of knowledge about the Hong Kong of that era, I'm guessing. They hint throughout that the environment is a little unstable, but I wrote that off more as a part of the texture than of something of import. Suddenly, though, we're watching a television broadcast of Gen. DeGaulle visting Pol Pot in Cambodia. Huh?? And then we see Mr. Chow in the ruins of a Bhuddist temple for the closing. We know exactly what it is he's doing, as there was a fine moment of dialogue earlier where he describes the event. Though it's supposed to be with a tree, not a hole in an ancient stone wall.

So I guess there's a layer of symbolism and history there that totally escaped me. In fact, that was likely occuring throughout, but everywhere else, it was part of the texture, and so I just absorbed it and accepted it even though it didn't entirely evoke what was probably intended out of me. But there at the end, it was a bit of a "huh?!" pall that overshadowed what was otherwise a fine, poingnant, and intimate moment.

At any rate, while I have heard a lot about Wong Kai War's films, I never dipped my toes in those waters. Now, I'm encouraged to keep going.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, coincidentely, I watched "In The Mood For Love" recently, about two nights ago, and I had kind of a similar reaction. It didn't quite touched me deeply, but it didn't disapointed me either. It was enjoyable and easy to watch, while the simbolism is kept on a more subtle level that won't put the viewer in a constant confused/questioning mood. I overall enjoyed it and agree it is a really nice movie! Oh and I loved the music! ^^

*** MartAnimE