ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

OCTOBER 16, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 15

Paul Hu/Assignment Asia for TIME.
Director Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love was a big hit at Cannes.

Make Mood, Not Love
Wong Kar-wai's romantic drama has enthralled and perplexed viewers. But nobody creates texture as well as Hong Kong's most distinctive director

A Night on the Set: Wong's wild and crazy technique

Whispers in doorways. Long, longing looks. Desire smothered by propriety. A love that dare not show its face. Wong Kar-wai's enthralling, enigmatic In the Mood for Love is an essay in appetite and inhibition. Its theme is withholding—withholding love, commitment and information to the characters and the viewer. The film lives in the realm of emotional suppression and artistic suggestion. It weaves an erotic web around two of Hong Kong's comeliest stars, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, then lets the audience decide whether they have an affair. "People who watch films think they need to be provided with details," Wong says. "I don't want to give them."

The "story" of In the Mood for Love is simple enough. In 1962 two couples, the Chans and the Chows, move into adjacent boarding houses in Hong Kong. Proximity forces Mrs. Chan (Maggie) and Mr. Chow (Tony) together, and gradually they realize that their spouses are having an affair. This abandoned pair are united at first by bereavement—for their compromised marriages and their dented egos—and then by something else. Could it be love? That's what In the Mood's audience is in the mood for. But Wong isn't.

"I hate love stories," he says. "They sell prettiness. I don't do that. There's more to life than love." Yet love, sex and their attendant ache are at the humid heart of his films; that's one reason he is Hong Kong's most distinctive director, and Asia's most imitated. He eroticizes his images with a dreamy sensuality edited at a sprung-rhythm pace: slow-motion gazing at a woman carrying a thermos of noodles, a man dragging on a cigarette. And the subject of every Wong film, from the early As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild to Chungking Express and Happy Together, is the combustion of yearning and isolation—the need for closeness within the life sentence of solitude.

COVER: The Great Web Bonanza
India has unexpectedly and unintentionally found a future through the Internet, one fueled by the largest pool of engineering talent in the developing world
Wave of the Future: Villages get hooked up
Interview: "Our Net revolution is here to stay"
Viewpoint: Why India, not China, is a high-tech whiz

TAIWAN: Rookie Mistakes
The resignation of Premier Tang Fei highlights the fragility of Chen Shui-bian's young and still fumbling administration

THAILAND: Back to the Brink
Changing sexual habits and a decline in funds for AIDS prevention is leading to a dangerous rebound in HIV rates
Burma: The generals battle the disease by lying about it

MALAYSIA: All the News That's Fit to Surf
Stymied by the nation's traditional, conservative press, more and more readers are going online for information

CINEMA: In the Mood for Wong Kar-wai
Fifteen months in the making, the Hong Kong director's latest film leaves viewers both delighted and mystified
On Location: A long night on the wild side

BOOKS: A Walk on the Wild Side
An entertaining biography examines the man who has chronicled Bangkok and its sex scene for 35 years

TRAVEL WATCH: Check into the past at one of Asia's Grand Hotels

"I'm tired of making Wong Kar-wai movies," the director said half-seriously last year. In the Mood has the bleak glamour and daring craftsmanship of his other work, thanks to Chris Doyle, the cinematographer, and William Chang, who designed both the production and the costumes (including a ravishing cheongsam wardrobe for Cheung) and edited the film. But for his first period piece since the kung-fu Ashes of Time, Wong wanted a style that evoked the colony and its movies in 1962: more classical, less ornate. To capture the density of middle-class life in the Shanghainese sector of Hong Kong, he keeps the camera close to the actors as they edge past each other in narrow corridors and alleyways—so close you can feel their heat and pain.

In its first hour, the film draws the viewer into the characters' frustrated lives. How do people behave when they learn they have been betrayed? And later, when they are considering an affair of their own? On the outside, nothing unusual. They play mah-jongg, go to the corner for take-out food, sit alone in a room. Visually and dramatically, the film doesn't raise its voice; it never reveals the faces of the adulterers and often shows only one of two people in a doorway chat. In 1962, Wong was four years old (he came to Hong Kong from Shanghai the following year). In the Mood could be seen as a child's perspective on grown-up matters—of adults speaking their private language, sotto voce.

But the attentive viewer will see signs of furtive feelings. The strained courtship of Maggie and Tony is a symphony of fumbling gestures. Her hand brushes past his jacket; his hand rests, for a tense moment, on hers. One night she stays in his room, because the landlord has come home and they don't care to stoke a hotpot of gossip. As incarnated so beautifully by two actors who can suggest worlds without words, the pair have all the wariness and guilt of adulterous lovers. But do they have an affair?

The director says they do; he shot love scenes that he later cut. But who needs a big revelation? "It's easy to understand," he insists. "Hong Kong audiences are saying, 'Finally, we understand a Kar-wai movie.' I get a little upset about that. I think I've let them down." Still, some viewers are confused by the film's veering into opaqueness toward the end. At its Cannes Film Festival premiere, Cheung said she was shocked by how much was left out. And Leung says, "When I saw it for the first time, even I felt like an outsider. I'd lived that character for a year and a half and I couldn't get into that character, live with them both, flow with them."

Wong acknowledges that his actors were often exasperated during the grueling 15-month shoot. "It took four hours just to set up Maggie's hairdo," he says. "So if we shot 12 hours, it meant 16 for her. That's tough, she hated it, and she hated me for it." But the plot doesn't matter as much as the mood in a Wong Kar-wai film, which has to be an active collaboration between its makers and the audience. And for the viewer who can get beyond did-they-or-didn't-they, the film has all the mystery of real life transformed into seductive art.

At the end of Happy Together, the gay man played by Leung sought refuge in a lighthouse at the southern tip of Patagonia. At the end of In the Mood, Leung is in the majestic ruins of Angkor Wat, speaking his secret (of guilt or loss or deceit) into a hole in a temple wall, then sealing the crack so the words will be safe from prying minds. He might be Wong, disclosing and securing the secret of his film.

The last shots are of Angkor Wat's ancient doorways, echoing 800 years of confessions, prayers and betrayals. The story of these two sad people is as small as a shrug, as soft as a whisper, as lovely as a Maggie Cheung dress, as old as Adam and Eve, as cold as the ashes at the end of an affair that kindled all too briefly, or never was.

Reported by Stephen Short/Hong Kong

Write to TIME at

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.