The Museum of Fine Arts is having a grand year with international imports. After closing out its popular French Film Festival, the MFA will play host to the works of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai Aug. 1-25. As part of the Hong Kong Second Wave, Wong stands out with his films’ controlled color palettes, soulful lighting, creative editing, and attention to detail. He uses his tools so well that his work is an ideal choice for a museum to showcase the art of film.
One of his most popular films, “In the Mood for Love,” which plays Aug. 16 and 18, is also a picture-perfect introduction to Wong’s work. Starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung (who now goes by his full name, Tony Leung Chiu Wai), the film follows the tale of two working couples, neighbors in an apartment building in Hong Kong during the conservative 1960s. Mrs. Su’s (Cheung), husband is always away on long business trips, while Mr. Chow’s wife works long days and comes home late each night. Mrs. Su and Mr. Chow find themselves alone in their respective apartments, until happenstance allows a friendship to kindle. But with whispers of their neighbors’ gossip, worries arise about dishonoring themselves. The friendship is broken, and the chance encounters that had once fueled their relationship are gone.
It’s soul-stirring in a slow-burning way. There are no explosive emotional outbursts, nor any turns toward violence. “In the Mood for Love” is grounded in a quiet sadness of acceptance. It was an idealized time, a romanticized moment in their lives that passes by in a matter of months. We’re left with the “what if” just as much as Chow and Su. With Wong’s musicality, montages of, for example, Chow and Su trekking out to get dinner from the noodle cart on their own elicit their own special melancholy.
Songs like “I’m in the Mood for Love” and the Spanish version of the classic rumba, “Perhaps, Perhaps” add to the potential twist Chow and Su’s relationship could have taken. When the two are in the same space it’s almost always at night, and the setting is bathed in a warm, red glow symbolizing the growing affection. While the two lonely hearts are at work, their faces seem washed out by the fluorescent lights above, highlighting their misery. Such a subtle touch to depict silent anguish.
The other parts of Wong’s romance trilogy, “Days of Being Wild” and “2046,” will play alongside the rest of his filmography. And good news for cinephiles, many of his works will be presented on 35 millimeter film, so you can enjoy the full effect of his craft. Wong’s latest, “The Grandmaster,” starring the aforementioned Leung and Zhang Ziyi of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers” fame will premiere Aug. 15.
Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic and writer based in Boston. You can usually find her outside any of the area’s movie theaters excitedly talking about the film she just saw, or on Twitter @mcastimovies.
This program aired on August 1, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.