11 March 2011

In Love for the Mood of In the Mood for Love (or Something)

I'd recommend Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love anywhere, any time, from iPhones to plasma TVs meters across but, after seeing it in theater last week, I recommend it most of all on film stock. In cinema I prefer the love in my comedies to be requited and love in my dramas to be unrequited. ITMFL, with the so-quiet-it's-almost-nonexistent courtship between Chow (Tony Leung) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung), falls in the second category.

Another way to summarize the film, from my other great discovery of the week: movie barcodes.

That white stripe in the middle is a fade out we see after an image that captures the incredible layering and precision of WKW's art. In this viewing, I noticed for the first time the complexity of the shot where Maggie Cheung centers the frame in her least densely patterned dress of the film: a daffodil print. She stands looking out a window fringed with foliage, next to floral curtains and in front of a sofa emblazoned with leaves. On her glass: more painted flowers. Floating at the bottom of her beverage: tea leaves. WKW's vision is total--he's left nothing out.

I paired my viewing of the film with Ming Wong's "In Love for the Mood" video installation at the Frye Museum. I can't pretend to unravel all the levels of meta- at work but to take a stab: Ming's piece is a multi-language, single gender reenactment by a white actress of a scene from ITMFL in which Chow and Su Li-zhen are not being themselves but are instead pretending to play the roles of their own unfaithful spouses. Postmodern confusion aside, it was fascinating to be in a room with the installation looping on three flatscreens with languages echoing around from surround sound speakers.

In more ways than the title, Ming's video loops seem an inversion of WKW's film. Rather like Godard's hidden earpiece technique with Anna Karina, Ming gives the actress her lines as she's speaking and her phonetic pronunciations are full of mistakes. Whereas Su Li-zhen breaks off speaking because of emotional devastation, the actress in the Ming's piece breaks off and giggles because she doesn't speak Cantonese. Despite precisely recreating the visuals of a scene from In the Mood for Love, "In Love for the Mood" feels offhand, less serious. WKW is notorious for the number of takes he requires, demanding that his actors' voices match an exact cadence he has in mind. Perhaps Ming's "first rehearsal" art reveals some of the sweat that's required to make WKW's frictionless celluloid machines.

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