Blu-ray Review – In the Mood for Love
The nice thing about The Criterion Collection is not only that they choose interesting titles to add to their ever growing catalogue, but that they also take care of the films that are already in it. This month brings the Blu-ray upgrade of Wong Kar-wai’s masterful In the Mood for Love (2000/Spine #147). One of the most beautiful and romantic movies of the new century, Wong’s story of romance is the perfect candidate for high definition. With redone menu screens and some changes in the bonus material, this release has something for those who already own the previous DVD, and for others who are coming to it for the first time.
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. How much do I love it? The second article I ever wrote for this site was an appreciation for how great it is. Without regurgitating what I wrote too much, the story involves two strangers, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), who move into the same apartment complex on the same day in 1962 Hong Kong. The two come together when they realize that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. Out of understanding for one another’s predicament, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow develop a bond to help deal with their pain. However, as their mutual respect and admiration begin to grow, so do their feelings. Can Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, who have vowed not to stoop to the level of their spouses, live and see each other at a distance knowing that they are quickly falling in love?
Wong Kar-wai is one of the finest filmmakers alive, and this is easily his best film to date. It is his most controlled and effective piece as a director. Emotions are hidden beneath social facades, with characters wanting to say what they are thinking but not being able to because of how society may see them. The combination of music and cinematography creates vibrant scenes of high atmosphere (I don’t think I’ve ever seen smoking look so beautiful on screen). I can’t recommend the film enough—it is a wonderful and deeply moving love story that’ll make any person with a heart of stone turn into a hopeless romantic.
If you have seen the film, you will know why it’s made for Blu-ray. The photography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin (who also supervised the transfer) creates wonderful aesthetics, and in high definition the accomplishment is even more noticeable. Lines are distinguished with more clarity, and colors stand out brightly when compared to the DVD transfer. There is still a bit of visual noise/graininess, mostly in scenes that are not lit as well, but for the most part the picture has been cleaned up fairly nicely.
The audio quality has been upgraded with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This was most noticeable in two areas. The first is indoor scenes. While certain characters are interacting on screen, we can noticeably hear other details occurring off screen, including conversations in other rooms, television sets and radios playing, etc. The second area is with the music. Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme,” played repeatedly throughout the film, feels richer and deeper, enhancing emotions to a greater point. Again, the effectiveness may not be noticeable unless compared to the DVD release, but when the two are contrasted, the differences are apparent.
The original DVD was full of special features, and while many of them did get transferred, some new ones were added while others were dropped off entirely.
The hour-long documentary @ “In the Mood for Love” is included, and is arguably the highlight of the package, showing behind the scenes footage, interviews, and press tours by the director and stars. Also included is Wong Kar-wai’s short film Hua yang de nian hua (2000), his love letter to old Asian cinema.
While there is no feature-length commentary, Wong does provide commentary to deleted scenes. These are a welcomed bonus, especially with how the film was initially supposed to be sillier and more comedic.
There are a number of lengthy interviews. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s interviews from the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival provide insight on working on a film so extensively (filming lasted about a year). Two archival interviews of Wong, including a “cinema lesson” from the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, detail his many influences and filmmaking techniques, and how this is loosely the second part of a trilogy (Days of Being Wild and 2046 being the other two films).
The disappointing aspect is how some features weren’t held over from the DVD. Gone is Gina Marchetti’s essay involving the film’s setting, an interactive essay on the music, photo gallery, and cast/crew biographies. In the booklet, the story by novelist Liu Yi-chang remains, but the director’s statement and article by critic Li-Cheuk-to have been dropped. In return, two video interviews by Tony Rayns are added, as well as a new essay by critic Steven Erickson (in the booklet). While these added materials are a plus, it would have been nice to have everything. Business-wise, it makes sense to distinguish the new from the old release, but I don’t know if many consumers would want (or could afford) to double dip to have all the bonus features.
In the Mood for Love is a great movie, and one of the prized possessions in my personal collection. Criterion did a very good job with upgrading the film itself, but the missing bonus material from the DVD does bring the overall release down a notch. Still, even with my minor gripes, this is a film I urge you to see if you haven’t already done so.
Overall Release Grade: B+