Tag: maggie cheung

In the Mood for Love


In the Mood for Love (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When was the last time you’ve seen a romance picture whereby a man and a woman eat dinner at the same table and the camera dares to focus its attention on the food being consumed rather than the words, looks, and impressions the two share? Yet the scene is not about the food but about the lonely pair, possessing knowledge that their respective spouses are having affairs, who are separated by that table. Although the attraction between them is palpable, they vow not to behave like their partners. And so the distance between the two sharing a meal might as well be from Venus to Mars. Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” works on this level all the way through. It assumes that those looking in are intelligent in the mind, heart, and spirit. By doing so, it avoids common trappings of the genre and forges a unique path of its own.

We are offered one fresh image after another. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) have spent time with each other on multiple occasions. And yet when they converse in public, the camera tends to hide—behind a stone pillar, metallic bars—as if it were spying on them. At times images are blurry, off-centered. Their backs face the camera. We are forced take on the perspective of a voyeur precisely because, in a way, we are.

Another example, five minutes into the film, involves move-in day for both Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow. They are neighbors, whose spouses are often away on business, and so movers inevitably confuse which possessions belong to whom. But this scene is not played for simple or easy laughs. By placing the camera in a cramped hallway, it gives the impression that the story we are about to experience will be about people moving in and out of rooms and the items—offerings—they carry with them. Sometimes items are left in place. Other times items are taken somewhere else. It is a beautiful metaphor for the impermanence of time, places, and faces. Notice how the writer-director seems to have an affinity for showing faces of clocks.

This is not to suggest that the work can only be enjoyed by being observant. This can be appreciated by viewers who have lived and loved; those who have a penchant for self-reflection. Consider: Despite spending ample time with one another, we never, ever, get to hear Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow share laughter even though it is apparent they thoroughly enjoy one another’s company. We are not spoon-fed why. Rather, we inspired to look inside ourselves to come up with a reason, or reasons, why this might be.

I think it is because sharing laughter, joy, with another person is deeply personal. By not showing the pair laugh, the work is making a statement that even though we get to see glimpses of their interactions, many of which are sensual and intense, we remain outsiders looking in. To hear them laugh is an act of breaching the secret space they’ve created for themselves. Laughter would have overpowered the whispers. I also think doing so would have broken the picture’s mood. We’ve all been in a situation where we hear a couple laughing from several feet away and feeling a bit awkward. We wonder, “What’s so funny?” or “What are they laughing about?” We are meant to gravitate toward Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, not be repelled by them.

There is splendor within moments of pause. Here is a picture so patient that, for example, it is willing to show how rain lands on street lamps, on people, on stone roads. It demonstrates how rain can change people’s behavior. Many run away to find shelter, some hide under umbrellas, others remain still. Rain can be regarded as an act of renewal, of washing away sins, of evidence, and perhaps of memories, too. “In the Mood for Love” ends in an offbeat path, but it feels exactly right because it is helmed by hands who appreciates how it is like to yearn for a possibility so close to becoming reality, for a life not lived but to go on living anyway.

Police Story


Police Story (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

Right from its opening sequence which involves a sting in a squatter area, “Police Story” proves to be no ordinary action picture. Director Jackie Chan, who also stars as Ka Kui, a cop for the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, demonstrates his keen eye for location, the people who take up space in a particular area, and how they move, whilst interacting with the environment, when chaos is turned up to 11. This sets the tone for the film. On the surface, there appears to be pandemonium. But look closer and realize there is great control—discipline—in how action is set up and executed while incorporating happy accidents along the way to create an exciting, fun, and unique final product. There is plenty to appreciate here.

One is Chan’s penchant and talent for doing his own stunts. There is electricity and intention behind every move: whether he’s throwing a punch or the one avoiding it, whether he’s dangling off a double-decker bus with an umbrella, or whether he’s sliding down a pole—smashing glass along the way—several stories high. The eye-popping and jaw-dropping sequences demand attention. Even more impressive is when Chan is required to lug another actor around as their characters get themselves in sticky situations.

But the magic is not just the actor doing his own stunts, you see. Observe a little more actively and note how Chan always accompanies his physical prowess with easily readable emotions on his face. His expressions help to amplify the mood of a scene. Compare the silliness that unfolds in the apartment of a key witness (Brigitte Lin) Ka Kui must protect so she can testify in court the next day to the desperate, nail-biting final confrontation in a mall. Chan delivers a real performance; he steps on set not as a stuntman but an actor who just so happens to do his own stunts. It makes a whole world of difference, especially considering the fact that the work is prone to sudden shifts in tone.

For the most part, the picture commands a comic feel: mistaken identities, the ennui of the every day while on the job, ironic details among cops, lawyers, and crooks. It is a movie that works hard to make us smile. In just about every scene, a wink can be found. Even when Ka Kui steps on manure, the obvious comedy is never treated as the punchline. But when it changes gears suddenly—a cop who struggles to shoot at suspects in the middle of an operation, when a girlfriend is thrown down a flight of stairs—it is jolts us into paying attention. Chan is the anchor—as actor and director—that holds the ship together. He doesn’t rely on charm.

I wished we got to know more about the main woman in Ka Kui’s life, particularly the girlfriend, May (Maggie Cheung), who appears to have more in her than simply looking concerned. Our protagonist seems to love her, but we never get a chance to see them engage in real conversations. At times I felt annoyed that just when May is about to say something of substance, possibly about his safety (or lack thereof) in his occupation, she finds herself cut off by the more dominating personalities. This is not a knock on Cheung, but I felt her talent can be utilized better in slower, thoughtful stories. This one zips along with energy to spare.

Despite this shortcoming, “Police Story,” delivering astonishing practical effects right after another, is a delight from start to finish. Even the final minutes dare to hint at a deeper conversation surrounding limitations cops come across when facing men who possess considerable wealth, power, and influence. There is suggestion that everyone is just dancing around the fire. Ka Kui makes a decision. And there is catharsis.