Sometimes a Movie is a Dance: In the Mood for Love (2000)


To view In the Mood for Love click here.

There is a clamor in the apartment house as people come and go, eat dinner, play mahjong and discuss the day. The shots are tight. We see faces, bodies moving past us, jammed hallways. Then, everything stops. The clamor is gone. The soundtrack now plays only music, a music both deliberate and beautiful, and a woman gracefully walks up and down a flight of stairs to get noodles for dinner. Her neighbor, a man with whom she has a passing acquaintance follows close behind and does the same. Then, the clamor returns. As their relationship becomes deeper, and more expressive, the rhythm changes, the beats occurs at different intervals and the bodies move cautiously at times, frantically at others. Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film, In the Mood for Love, may be the cinema’s best evocation yet of the cinema as dance.

The setting is Hong Kong, 1962, and the apartment house is run by a generous and enthusiastic landlady, Mrs. Suen (Rebecca Pan), who rents an apartment out to Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and her unseen husband, and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and his unseen wife, on the same day. Su and Chow have different lives (she’s a secretary, he’s a journalist) but what they have in common is their spouses’ continued absence from their lives. Su’s husband goes to Japan on business and brings back items that cannot be acquired in Hong Kong for Su to give to her boss and neighbors. One of those neighbors, Chow, requests something as well but only as a way of getting closer to Su. His wife works late, leaves early and skips work without telling him. She goes on long trips herself and it quickly becomes apparent to both Chow and Su that their spouses are not only cheating, but cheating with each other. It also becomes apparent that Chow and Su are falling in love but propriety and restraint keep them from engaging in any kind of illicit affair. Instead, they spend their nights together trying to figure out how the affair of their spouses started in the first place. Through all of it, the rhythms of the movie shift as the emotions of the characters flux.


Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is the work of many talented artists working together like a repertory dance company all familiar with each others’ moves and rhythms, strengths and weaknesses. While every feature film made is a group effort, In the Mood for Love feels more collaborative than others. As much credit for the film should go to William Chang, its editor, and Mark Lee Ping and Christopher Doyle, its cinematographers, and of course the two lead actors, as to the writer/director himself. Even those making the film have said they weren’t sure what the outcome would be while in the process. It is a film that took form as the director, editor and cinematographers saw what the actors had given them and then pieced it together into a graceful ballet of two lonely and confused people, trying to find answers and trying to avoid the love they cannot help but feel.


Interestingly, there were musical moments originally planned for the film, in which the characters danced and sung, but Kar-wai changed his mind and reshot most of the film after deciding that didn’t work. Watching those deleted scenes, it’s clear why it didn’t work: as said before, the movie is already choreographed, actual dancing is not required. For those who argue that the dance scenes might liven up the deliberate nature of the film, I would argue that they would all but kill it. The movie is not about two lovers, falling into each other’s arms, laughing and singing and dancing and discovering how wonderful the world is outside their marriages. The film is about repression, self-control and abstinence in the face of relentless passion. Provide this film with exuberant, joyous moments between the two leads, and you’ve missed the point entirely.

In 2000, Wong Kar-wai released In the Mood for Love after successes with such works as Chungking Exrpess (1994) and Happy Together (1997). Those films, and many others by Kar-wai, are excellent works, worthy of praise but In the Mood for Love seems to stand out in a way that makes it separate from the rest of his filmography. Like Clare Denis’ Beau Travail, the film seems more a work created in post-production rather than planned in pre-production. And like Beau Travail, the only other film that comes close to the dance-like rhythms of this one, dialogue and plot are less important than the ebbs and flows of the movements onscreen, the movements that form the dance that tells the story.  A story of mood, not means and ends. A story that words could not hope to relate.

Greg Ferrara

5 Responses Sometimes a Movie is a Dance: In the Mood for Love (2000)
Posted By Sadia (Movie) : April 16, 2017 10:55 pm

Really great review for a great film such as this! The story line is awesome and it goes straight in the feels. I haven’t seen this movie but I got really interested after reading your review.Thanks

Posted By swac44 : April 17, 2017 10:37 am

There’s a magic at work here that Wong Kar-Wai was never really able to capture again, including the 2004 sequel that most never saw, 2046, and the two features that followed. I think I saw this in the theatre twice when it first ran, there were moments (visual and aural) that I could not get out of my head, and I’ve returned to it a couple of times on home video. Quite possibly one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 18, 2017 6:35 pm

Swac, I completely agree. This is his high point as a director and even if nothing else in his catalog can match it, no matter. As Orson Welles said, you only need one.

Posted By swac44 : April 19, 2017 7:55 am

I love a lot of his work, Chungking Express was a revelation when I caught it in a theatrical release before Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder company picked it up for distribution.

But I never need to hear California Dreamin’ ever again.

Posted By Kendra : April 20, 2017 8:44 am


I saw on Facebook that it was your birthday yesterday and wondered where you’d gone off to and whether you were doing well. Nice to see you’re still writing! Just wanted to stop by and say hello.

PS, I love Wong Kar Wai. Chungking Express and Happy Together are A+.

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