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Film review: In the Mood for Love

Depending on your perspective — if not your cinematic patience — either a lot or very little happens during "In the Mood for Love."

Also, much of what does happen in this period romantic drama is up to the interpretation of viewers — including the seemingly inconclusive ending, which may thrill audiences starved for smarter movie storytelling but could leave others frustrated at the lack of answers.

Both are expected reactions to the works of Chinese director Wong Kar-wai, whose films "Fallen Angels," "Happy Together" and "Chungking Express" also elicited equal showerings of praise and hostility.

Another trademark of his movies is the way they so obviously betray his influences, be they filmmaker Stanley Kubrick or the French New Wave directors of the 1960s. But these influences have never been more pronounced than in this slowly meditative but stylish piece, which successfully re-teams two of the director's favorite actors, Tony Leung (who has appeared in five of Wong's films) and Maggie Cheung (who's been in four).

As far as the story is concerned, it's an oddly affecting look at how two lonely Hong Kong residents — who live in neighboring apartments — are drawn together by the infidelity of their respective spouses.

Chow Mo-wan (Leung, from "The Killer") is a journalist who is so busy at work that he never notices the obvious signs of his wife's affair. Like him, Su Li-zhen (Cheung, who is best-known to U.S. audiences for her appearance as Jackie Chan's girlfriend in "Supercop") seems oblivious to her always-absent husband's betrayal.

That is, until the two neighbors share a meal and are finally confronted with incontrovertible evidence (a piece of clothing and a handbag give it away). Emboldened by that discovery, they decide to spend time together so they can rehearse the "betrayal" speeches that they plan to give.

However, despite the pretense about their play-acting, Chow and Su begin to enjoy each other's company — a fact that's all too obvious to their neighbors and co-workers, and which also threatens to destroy the relationship.

Despite the tricky subject material, the film doesn't necessarily romanticize infidelity or use it for the sake of exploitation. In fact, the two main characters try to remain faithful to their spouses — even though they're carrying on an "affair" of their own.

That alone is a refreshing change of pace, but the film also throws in handsome locations (including parts of Bangkok, which fills in for '60s-era Hong Kong) and lavish costuming, as well as subtle musical shadings (including songs sung by Nat King Cole).

Still, it might not have worked without the two leads, whose performances are superb. Particularly good is the underrated Cheung, whose facial expressions and body language betray the feelings her character is afraid to voice.

"In the Mood for Love" is rated PG for a a couple of uses mild profanity, as well as some mildly vulgar slang terms. Running time: 97 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com