Watched: 12 January. Rewatched: 13 January
For shame, I’d actually started to wonder why the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai is so revered, but this masterpiece has put that right; as visually interesting as the three previous films of his that I’d watched are (My Blueberry Nights, As Tears Go By, The Grandmaster), none of them can hold a candle to this lusciously shot and ultra-moody romance. This – quite simply – is a great film.
Both Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung excel in the two main roles, playing a pair of new neighbours who come to realise that their spouses – whose faces we never see, and whose bodies we rarely glimpse on screen – have begun an affair, and this lends an extra dimension to their initial, charged chance encounters in the corridor outside their apartments, in the shared kitchen and dining room where landlady Mrs Suen holds raucous late-night mahjong sessions and en route to or from the noodle stall (both characters eat alone a lot, a theme that runs through the film). Their relationship develops apace, but as with many tragedies a simple misjudgement of time brings everything to a halt, and though the characters and the audience can all imagine a very simple resolution to the situation that leaves everyone happy it becomes increasingly harder for them to achieve as time moves on and their situations become more complicated. Very sad.
It’s a visual treat. There’s the slow-tracking camerawork by Wong’s regular DP Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin, the vivid colours they capture on film and the beautifully-decorated sets (in particular the apartment building, but also the separate workplaces of Cheung’s secretary Su Li-zhen and Leung’s journalist) as well as, of course, the quite amazing array of costumes, all of which combine to make this one of the best looking films of the 2000s. I wouldn’t ever call myself an appreciator of fashion, but even with my untrained eye I can see that Leung looks great in his suit and Cheung’s selection of qipaos is one of cinema’s finest wardrobes. So good I watched it again the following night. (*****)