In the Mood for Love
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the great Hong Kong stars, had been each in several earlier pictures made by the stylish filmmaker Wong Kar-Wei. In the Mood for Love, in which they play married neighbors who become enamored of each other, would appear the culminating event of their long-time relationship with the distinguished film director. But at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival last May, just minutes after the movie's world premiere, both actors acted surprisingly out of sorts with Wong, after having suffered what they felt was an overlong, maddeningly disorganized shoot.
"Finding my character was the most difficult time, I was confused and frustrated," said Cheung. "I thought I was doing something right and then Wong would say we'll do it all different. I hadn't been with him for a long time, not really ten years. I forgot that he works with the actors forever to develop characters, that we all have to write the film together."
"Working with him now is more and more frustrating," Leung agreed. "He should go faster next time and not just change every day. I'd come on the set one day, and my character was getting revenge. I'd come another day, and my character was not getting revenge."
Wong took the public rebuke stoically, agreeing that "This was the most difficult film in my career. We had trouble with the camera, even with subtitles. I'm very grateful to this actor and this actress because they spent a year with me so that we could sort out all stories about this affair." And that included contradicting himself: Wong filmed a scene of Cheung and Leung making love, and then decided it wasn't right that it happened: "It's possible to have an affair without having an affair." And his method included odd improvisations, in which his stars were asked to play other characters than their own, including two key persons in the drama who never appear on screen.
"We didn't actually need their husband and wife. Sometimes I'd make Maggie be the wife of Tony, sometimes Tony played Maggie's husband. Very difficult for them. We were inspired by Truffaut, Godard, Antonioni, all those masters who teach us to explore how people behave in an environment.
"My second film, Days of Being Wild, was set in Hong Kong in the early 1960s, and we never had a chance to make part two. In the Mood for Love can't be seen as a sequel but as a continuation. Everyone in the first film was single. Here, they are more mature and married. It's a 1962 version, in "mono," and the people are slow in the 1960s. The music from Nat "King" Cole is a reference to that time, and it also creates the mood. He was my mother's favorite singer.
"It's a time frame that I know very well from my Hong Kong childhood. People had neighbors who lived next door who they actually knew and talked to. We shot in various small apartment spaces: our characters are spied on by neighbors. By the audience. But we filmed in Bangkok, because we couldn't find Hong Kong in Hong Kong, it's changed so fast."
A journalist asked Cheung if she felt it a tragedy that that her character doesn't quite come together with this man whom she loves. "I don't think it's a tragedy. It happens every day in the world. I would rather call it 'a regret.' There are regrets in our lives, and this is one of them."
Was it because it became clear to the actress, as the Cannes press conference went on, that the gathered critics really appreciated In the Mood for Love? That the film succeeded despite the backstage bickerings? For whatever reason, Maggie Cheung, speaking on, qualified her earlier negative remarks about shooting this picture.
"Making As Days Go By was my least difficult experience with Wong Kar-Wai," she said. "I was a young actress and we were like student filmmakers on an experimental movie. It was fun- - but that was the end of fun! I left him for a few years, and I came back to him. He must have had some experiences to grow into the person I now know. He must have gone on a beautiful journey. Making this film, I finally overcame my anger and frustration. And there was love."
(Boston Phoenix, March, 2000)