For his second (slightly out-of-order) film, Brendan initially told me it was going to be something by Wong Kar-Wai, but he had no idea what as of yet.  He eventually settled on the 2000 film In The Mood For Love, the Chinese title of which translates to something like “The Age of Blossoms” (which is a better title), and was originally intended to be called “Secrets” in English (maybe an OK title) before Wong heard the namesake song during production and changed it.  So says Wiki, anyway.  I can’t quite get behind the title here, but let’s not judge a BluRay by its cover.

Before the film, we had a bit of time and Brendan pulled up some YouTubes of old Flying Circus sketches (let’s see…Summarize Proust Contest, Ministry of Silly Walks, Kilimanjaro Expedition at the least), which isn’t a bad way to wait for folks to show up.  As his “more properly designated” short, he chose the Mulvaney Conference Call From Hell, wherein the Office of Management and Budget Director and various reporters have to deal with an uncooperative telecom setup.  Bonus: Rachel Maddow thinks she’s a conductor.

But…on to the film.

Nice to make your acquaintance – may I compliment you on your dress?

The film opens in 1962 Hong Kong, where journalist Chow Mo-wan and secretary Su Li-zhen (known throughout the film as Mrs. Chan) each let rooms in adjacent apartments.  Both are married; both have largely absent spouses.  In fact, to the best of my ability to tell, neither spouse’s face appears in the film.

Say, I’ve got a question for you…

You can guess where this setup is going from just that information.  Of course, the odor of adultery hangs heavy in the film from the start, with Chan’s boss asking to have her husband bring home a pair of identical gifts from his next business trip – one for the wife and the other for the mistress.

Is your neck cold?

Both of our protagonists spend a lot of time holed up in their rooms rather than socializing with the families they live with.  Shortly, both begin to suspect that their spouses are cheating on them.

Because my wife has a really nice scarf, and she’s never around, you could totally borrow it.

Even more interesting, the phenomenon of double-gifting (ties and handbags, respectively) provides the final clue that not only are their spouses cheating, but they are cheating with each other.  Pro tip: If you are cheating with the woman next door, don’t buy both your mistress and your wife the same gift.  It’s like they wanted to get caught.

Or maybe that’s not it – I mean it’s totally warm in here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Chow and Chan start to bond over their shared humiliation.  Before long, Chow asks Chan to help him with writing a martial arts serial, which increases the amount of time they spend together.

Do you have a hickey, or something?

The infidelities of their spouses remain unknown in the community, but the fact that Chow and Chan are spending a lot of time together begins to cause enough of a stir among the neighbors that Chow rents out a hotel room at another location so that they can continue to spend time together without drawing attention to themselves.

Because if it’s a hickey, it’s like the longest-lasting hickey ever.

As their secret relationship grows, one of Chow’s friends begins prying, complaining that Chow never tells him any of his secrets.  Chow tells him that in ancient times, if a person had a secret, they would go to the top of a hill and whisper their secret into a hollow in a tree, then plug the hollow with mud – which is a pretty classic shutdown moment.

Like, ever since I met you.  Do you have a weird birthmark or something?

Chow and Chan agree to keep their relationship platonic, feeling that it would be dishonorable to find themselves caught up in an infidelity, as it would bring them down to the level of their spouses.

Maybe it’s a scar!  Did your no-good husband slice your throat and leave you hideously disfigured?

Nonetheless, they do fall in love with each other, which leads Chan to cool the relationship down.  Chow, meanwhile, takes a job in Singapore and asks Chan to come with him.  She declines, and by the time she changes her mind, Chow has already left.

Maybe there’s like a totally creepy symbiotic head growing out of your neck, and if you expose it, it will use its supernatural mind control to hypnotize all of us!  Is that it?  What IS it?

A year later, Chan does go to Singapore chasing after Chow.  She tracks down his room, and the landlord (for some reason) even lets her in.  She calls him at work, but declines to speak, instead leaving a lipsticked cigarette butt in his ashtray.

Oh my god, do you have an ADAM’S APPLE?!?

Three more years down the road, Chan goes to visit her old landlady, only to find her in the process of moving to America.  The landlady mentions that she’s going to need to find someone to rent the apartment out to, since she doesn’t want to get rid of it, and Chan decides to take it.  Not long afterwards, Chow also returns to visit his old landlord, only to find that the apartment has been sold.  He asks if the neighbor is still around, but learns that she has also moved out, and been replaced by a young single woman and her toddler son, and he leaves never suspecting that it was Chan.

She had an Adam’s apple!  For the love of all that is holy, she had an Adam’s apple!

Some time later, Chow goes to Angkor Wat, which is not on the top of a hill, nor is it a tree.  Yet, on seeing a small hole in one of the walls of the ruin, he whispers into it, then covers it with mud.  The end.

The story of the film is relatively simple, and the attraction lies a bit more in the details.  You’ve got the fact that the spouses are never quite revealed, you’ve got the excellent cinematography, you’ve got several gotcha moments where the scene as played out turns out to be a rehearsal for life, and of course you’ve got Maggie Cheung’s seemingly infinite dress collection, every single one of which has an impossibly high collar.  It’s like a Hong Kong turtleneck, I’ve got no idea what’s going on there.

One of the most interesting decisions made in the film was to have Chan, apparently single, show up with a son just old enough to have been conceived before Chow left for Singapore (or, alternately, perhaps on her trip to Singapore – I’d have to watch the film again with the ending in mind, but I didn’t notice a hint she might have been pregnant at that time, though it might well explain the visit).  Outside of this possible hint, we aren’t really given any reason to believe that Chow and Chan were ever intimate.  They were in love, but were they really lovers?  Did she try to make up with her husband?  Did she have another fling?  We just don’t know, and we don’t have enough information to decide – meaning we can fill it in however we want.  And that, when pulled off right, makes for a satisfying film.  In The Mood For Love pulled it off right.