4/5 Chinese writer-director Wong Kar Wai helms this mellow drama full of romance and heartache. In the Mood for Love features the acting talents of Hong Kong stars Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung; these three have since worked together on 2046–no surprise, given the product of this first union is a moving cinematic experience of very human proportions.

Two stranger, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) fortuitously become neighbors when they both move into a crowded Hong Kong tenement on the same day. A tentative friendship forms between them in the absence of their spouses, and thanks, in no small part, to their close proximity. Both Chan and Chow independently begin to suspect their partners, who spend an inordinate amount of time at work, of infidelity. Their fears are confirmed when, over tea at the local bar, they discover a plethora of damning, albeit circumstancial, evidence on each other’s person. Out of spite, they vow never to emulate their cheating spouses, but as their fondness for each grows, their pledge proves a heartwrenching, perhaps impossible, struggle.

Wong Kar Wai implements an inventive, authentic complication to supplement to the worn and recycled forbidden-love story. Spite drives these two smitten married individuals to renounce the very romance they have been longing for since their adulterous companions deprived them. In the Mood for Love returns to the roots of the term ‘melodrama’, which sets a romantic story to a prominently featured musical score; without the wonderfully moody soundtrack, the film would be a vastly different experience. The director’s non-linear narrative style makes for interesting plot-development–several imagined scenarios play out on screen like wrinkles in time, branching out and rejoining effortlessly; any acute confusion caused by this kind of intermittent time-hopping is cleared up by the helpful musical cues.

The modern melodrama, Wong Kar Wai proves, has evolved from its Sirkian origins; gone are the laughable histrionics, the archetypal characters, the glaring symbolism, thematic archs, and antiquated romanticism which plagued weepies past. The new melodrama moves its audience with realism and subtlety, not maudlin sentimentality. Though its pace may deter the impatient viewer, those romantically inclined souls who seek an honest story well told, will find In the Mood for Love a genuine heartfelt affair.

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