In the Mood for Love (2000), Special Edition
1.66:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.0 and 2.0
Cantonese/Shanghainese with English subtitles
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

There are probably few projects better suited to a special-edition DVD than Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. For Wong, who produces, directs and "writes" his films – though he never actually comes up with a script – the filmmaking process is an evolution that begins with a concept, is refined by the selection of locations, and ends only when a film-festival deadline prods him out of the editing suite. Along the way, characters and storylines are radically revised, discarded or tucked away for future projects. As one longtime collaborator, Christopher Doyle, HKSC, has observed: "The structure and implications of his films are like a fat man’s feet: he doesn’t really know what they look like until the end of the day."

The making of In the Mood for Love proved to be an especially arduous example of Wong’s method. The two-character drama took 15 months to shoot, in part because the Asian financial crisis pummeled its financiers, but also because Wong changed the project’s tone and emphasis significantly during its production. What Wong originally conceived as a lighthearted romance between two cheating spouses evolved into a melancholy portrait of two spouses who are cheated upon. Furthermore, as the shoot dragged on, Wong had to honor a commitment to begin shooting his next feature (2046), so in the midst of making Mood, Wong and his crew found themselves scouting locations and filming scenes for another film. "It was like falling in love with two women at the same time – messy," Wong said in an interview at Cannes. The director actually finished shooting In the Mood for Love just two weeks before it was due at Cannes, and he called making the intimate drama "the most difficult experience of my career."

Set in Hong Kong in 1962, In the Mood for Love chronicles the relationship that develops between two neighbors, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk), who discover that their respective spouses are having an affair. The lonely neighbors begin to spend time together and develop a liking for each other, and soon the nature of their own relationship is called into question.

Restricted by social conventions, Chow and Chan’s interaction is confined to meaningful glances, small gestures and furtive, brief conversations. The often-stationary camera – a real departure from the style of Wong’s previous films – is frequently placed where its view is partly obscured, underscoring the significance of what remains unseen. "I approached this film as a Hitchcockian film: what happens outside the frame is what interests me," Wong told AC in February 2001.

Director of photography duties on the film were shared by Doyle and Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Li Ping-Bing; the latter stepped in after Doyle was forced to depart the project in order to honor prior commitments. "In the past, I was a bit lazy, because I could rely on Chris and he knows what I want," Wong acknowledges in an interview on this disc. "But this film didn’t look like my previous films, and working with Li, I was more involved in framing and lighting."

In addition to winning several cinematography awards, In the Mood for Love earned the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes, an award shared by Doyle, Li and William Chang Suk-ping (production/costume designer and editor). Criterion’s gorgeous transfer of the film (from the 35mm interpositive) does full justice to their work.

Among the treats in the DVD’s numerous supplements are several scenes from the project in its early stages, as well as scenes illustrating Wong’s original intent to carry the narrative through to 1972. (He decided instead to end it in 1966.) Deleted scenes are seldom worthy of the title "bonus material," but these are no throwaways: they offer glimpses of a work that was truly "in progress," as well as a window onto Wong’s editorial process.

Further illuminating that process is a lengthy Toronto Film Festival Q&A with Leung, Wong’s regular leading man, and Cheung, who has worked with Wong on and off since his career began; both actors recount with considerable amusement the pleasures and frustrations of working with their highly improvisational director, as well as the challenges unique to this film.

The DVD also includes two wide-ranging interviews with Wong from the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Among the topics he discusses are how short stories and music inspire him, the difficulties and rewards of making movies in Hong Kong, and his first filmmaking experience in America (on the BMW short film "The Follow," shot by Harris Savides, ASC).

Clearly, Wong’s unorthodox working method would be difficult to maintain if he didn’t have likeminded collaborators, and he notes that he and his small core of actors and crewmembers "are like a circus in the old times: we work as a team, traveling along." The only disappointment of this disc is that there aren’t any interviews with Chang and Doyle, two key members of that team.

Other noteworthy supplements include Wong’s own documentary about the making of In the Mood for Love, an essay by film scholar Gina Marchetti that discusses the film’s period setting, and "Wong Kar-wai: The Searcher," a well-crafted overview of his career thus far. Another intriguing supplement is a short film Wong assembled using old Hong Kong film footage; the nitrate materials were discovered in Southern California and restored by the Hong Kong Film Archive.

 – Rachael Bosley

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© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.