Boy, is Wong Kar-wai slow! In the Mood for Love was released five years ago, and it remains his most recent release in the States. It took over a year to make, with star Maggie Cheung repeatedly recalled to Hong Kong from her Paris home to do reshoots. Both Cheung and co-star Tony Leung have said that they had only the faintest idea what their director was up to during the scriptless shoot, and only understood the story when they attended the premiere. Now, years after In the Mood for Love enjoyed an exceedingly brief theatrical run in Chapel Hill, it returns to the Triangle for a one-night engagement at the North Carolina Museum of Art's Winter Film Series.
In this symphony of repressed desire, the beautiful and euphoniously monikered Cheung and Leung star as distant, pining lovers who are each stuck in unfulfilling relationships in a crowded Hong Kong apartment in 1962. What's more, their spouses are having an affair with each other. We never see the philandering couple. Indeed, we hardly see anything at all besides Tony and Maggie, Maggie and Tony. Tony may be the most suavely dressed newspaperman since Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, but it's Maggie who stuns in a breathtaking array of high-collared cheongsam dresses (all created by production designer and editor William Chang, the unsung hero of all of Wong's films).
Bonded by their mutual attraction and their mutual humiliation, Tony and Maggie nonetheless resist the temptation to have an affair. For this intelligent and sensitive couple, not doing the vulgar deed is the best revenge against their spouses. Christopher Doyle (Hero and everything by Wong) provides the gauzy, saturated atmosphere of feverish longing, and the lush strings of Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi help make In the Mood for Love an unforgettable movie about adulterous chastity.
Finally, keep an eye out for 2046, Wong's next film. It's a sequel, but was begun before In the Mood for Love. It's due out sometime this decade.
Showing Friday, March 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5, $3.50 students. Info: www.ncartmuseum.org .