Time Out's 101 Films of the Decade – Part 12, with reactions from Peter Jackson, David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro and more…

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Predictable? Maybe. Deserving? Undoubtedly. Prepare to swoon and sigh with Wong Kar-Wai's sweeping romance: our favourite film of the decade.

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1. In the Mood for Love (2000)

Directed by Wong Kar-WaiIt's all too beautifulIn many respects, Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’, the film voted Time Out’s best of the past decade, could have been made at any time in the last century. Its story of an unsought love that develops in contravention of social expectations and is frustrated by the practicalities of life, though timeless, somehow befits a period setting; in this, it anticipates ‘Brokeback Mountain’, another recent film set in the 1960s, and recalls ‘Brief Encounter’, Douglas Sirk and a whole tranche of Chinese romantic cinema, not to mention romantic literature. And Wong’s bravura technique, though adventurous, is more modernist than postmodernist, formally expressing psychological and emotional interiority rather than interrogating genre convention or audience expectations. The film, in other words, is not the radical standard-bearer for a new century so much as the superlative development of a longstanding storytelling tradition at which the movies excel.This story begins in Hong Kong in 1962. As the Chan and Chow couples move into rooms in neighbouring shared apartments, their belongings get mixed up, foreshadowing the intermingling of their marriages: before long, amid a communal hubbub in which every meal consumed and favour exchanged bears an expressive load, we realise that Mr Chan and Mrs Chow, never more than glimpsed from behind, have become involved; with regretful, incremental delicacy, Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr Chow (Tony Leung) recognise this too.

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Their initial commiseration is bounded by the watchfulness of neighbours, the attraction it husbands bounded by propriety and shame, and the tentative tenderness that develops between them is a model of sublimation. They collaborate idyllically on a fantasy writing project and take to playacting, rehearsing in diners and on the street scenarios exploring how their spouses’ affair might have begun; how they might confront them about it; how, in the end, they might take their leave of one another without great pain. Each ‘Vertigo’-like attempt can only be in vain.

Wong too gives himself boundaries, both developing and constraining the sophisticated cinematic language he had developed on pictures like ‘Days of Being Wild’, ‘Chungking Express’ and ‘Happy Together’ with production designer William Chang and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, here sharing a credit with Mark Lee Ping-bin. Narrative is approached elliptically, through repetitions and cycles that evoke the experience of routine and memory rather than conventional dramatic progression; on occasion, the only way to chart the passage of time is through the variety of Mrs Chan’s cheongsam dresses. Consistent in cut, as restrictive as Mr Chow’s equally ubiquitous neckties, their patterns vary from lava-lamp blobs to Rorschach blots, fluctuating shimmers to bold floral prints. It’s hard not to think of a chameleon, emotions flaring across its skin even as it remains placidly poised.

The film’s technique revisits a roster of gorgeous motifs – songs, shots, encounters – to establish and vary its emotional terrain. Cropped compositions and jump cuts suggestive of incompletion and destabilisation are set against the lush patterning and luminous slow motion of romance, and this tension is echoed in the leads’ rigorously contained performances. The result is an almost trancelike state of beauty sustained and fulfilment deferred, an ecstasy of longing.

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It’s apt, then, that two of the most stirring components of this film about emotional displacement are not to be found in the film itself. They are found in its trailer, an impressionistic distillation of the picture’s aesthetic and psychological contours that qualifies as a beautiful short film in its own right. It offers a shot from one of the diner scenes in which Mrs Chan enfolds Mr Chow’s hand, closed around his fork, in hers; he withdraws, leaving her fingers splayed on the table. Intimate, frustrated, lasting less than three seconds, it’s more skin contact than the pair are permitted in the entire feature and jolts the heart.

The trailer is set to Bryan Ferry’s cover of the song that gives the film its English title but is never heard in it. (The feature offers instead the oblique pleasures of Nat King Cole singing in Spanish and the aching strings of Shigeru Umebayashi’s waltz from the 1991 film ‘Yumeji’.) As ironically loaded a title as ‘Happy Together’, the tension between song and story here is less sardonic than bittersweet. Sensuous, sinuous, sincere, Ferry’s arrangement, like Wong’s picture, winds us through the surprise, the yearning, the defiance, the submission and the wonder of love, stressing the joy to which we mustn’t allow the sadness of its possible transience to blind us. ‘Why stop to think of whether this little dream might fade? We’ve put our hearts together. Now we are one, I’m not afraid.’ BW
Read the Time Out review here


View the personal top tens here

Explore the list: |101-91 | | 90-81 | | 80-71 | | 70-61 | | 60-51 |
| 50-41 | | 40-31 | | 30-21 | | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-2 |

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