In the Mood for Love 

This brooding chamber piece (2000) about a love affair that never quite happens is so minimalist that it succumbs to the law of diminishing returns—yet for some reason it sticks in my gut. Director Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong's most romantic filmmaker, is known for his excesses, and in that sense the film's spareness represents a bold departure. Claustrophobically set in adjacent flats in 1962 Hong Kong, where two young couples find themselves sharing space with other people, it focuses on a newspaper editor and a secretary at an export firm (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the sexiest duo in Hong Kong cinema) who discover that their spouses are having an affair on the road. Wong, who improvises his films with the actors, endlessly repeats his musical motifs (including a melancholy violin theme and three familiar ballads sung in Spanish by Nat "King" Cole) and variations on a handful of images, rituals, and short scenes (rainstorms, cab rides, stairways, tender and tentative hand gestures), while dressing Cheung in some of the most confining (though lovely) dresses imaginable, with collars like neck braces. This isn't among my favorite Wong Kar-wai features (in a pinch I'd pick Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, and Happy Together), but that doesn't mean my eyes weren't glued to the screen. 98 min. Landmark's Century Centre.

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

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