It is a restless moment.
She has kept her head lowered,
to give him a chance to come closer.
But he could not, for lack of courage.
She turns and walks away.
Its been some time since somebody exercised such charisma, authoritative-poise and understanding over a subject, as severely obvious, understated yet complicated as 'Desire'. The word "Mood" used in the title is apt, because a lot of the movie is just that - Mood. Its writer and director, Wong Kar Wai (WKW), is one of those gifted new breed of moviemakers who think through the lens, and use that talent to give the film a charged, rapturous boom-quality; the camera floats along, sneaking a look at the performers out of the corner of its eye. Narrative has rarely been his forte; instead his heart spills out onto the canvas of the breathing-and-alive screen with a swipe of bold colour.
WKW's masterly and meditative attempt explains, expresses and exemplifies the desire of two married people for each other which borders on the platonic, their attraction for each other, the obvious-innocence, indulgence and moral confusion, and the rote frosty glances of passer-bys. Throughout the movie, WKW, does-not, for a moment tread on unncessary judgement calls, nor does he force you to take sides or choose; he just presents - and a presentation of epic proportions it is...such is the relentless assault of super-beautiful images and sounds that you gasp for air, and end up wanting some more at the end of it all!
This is vintage, true-blue WKW. When did they stop making such movies, one wonders?!
The camera poses as a Voyeur, glanging over shoulders, peeps under bed-steads, gazes lovingly at this couple stranded in unhappy marriages, scans walls, adorned-floors, weeps at the agony of the characters, rejoices at their meetings, melts into the dark-stairs of the noodle-shop...it sneaks all the way. WKW immortalises everything in frame - the raindrops, the narrow red hotel-way, bulb at the street corner, parapet of the window, the winding cigarette-smoke, from noodle steam to the grill of a small metal fan; nothing misses his eye!
The movie is set in Hong Kong, 1962, restively adorned with a contemporary repressive, morally-judgemental society. One of the recurring themes is the use of the Red colour throughout the movie, perhaps indicative of the rebellious confrontation and conflict in the minds of the characters (WKW uses Blue to this effect in 'My Blueberry Nights').
Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary in a shipping company (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) a newspaper editor, play a couple married to other people who are renting rooms in apartments right next door, and eventually discover that their spouses are having affairs with each other. Gradually, the two people lean onto each other, and the chunk of the movie is about this want of the couple constantly staring at each other through glazed, hurting eyes.
This probably is one of the swooniest love-stories ever made, which exults in its own painful tailspin. Its a poignant take on the dilemma of desire, the confusion of loyalties and the longing for Love and Life. It is in parts, also a celebration of all this and a mourning over the unnecessary. The high point, perhaps is the hauntingly seductive and audacious nature of its perception and interpretation of Love and the end-product is a totally no-holds-barred breathtakingly-gorgeous piece of cinema!
WKW not only chooses a theme with universal importance, the struggle between repression and indulgence, but he handles it with fairness and consistency. Moreover, he lets his audience mull over and decide, never imposes a bit.
“Mother, have you noticed that this society we're in tends to be a little…repressive?”
“What does that mean, Eugenie? What does that mean, that strange new word, ‘repressive,’ that I have never heard before?”
“It means…it's like when you decide to do something, and you get up out of your chair to do it, and you take a step, and then become aware of frosty glances being directed at you from every side.”
"Your desires are stifled."
"What desires are you talking about?"
"Just desires in general. Any desires. It's a whole…I guess atmosphere is the…word…a tendency on the part of the society…”
"You'd better sew some more pillow cases, Eugenie."
- From Donald Barthelme's, Eugenie Grandet' (source).