By Catherine Grant, Chiara Grizaffi and Denise Liege
The above video explores the notion (and some of the motifs) of 'Intersection' in Wong Kar-wai's 2000 film In the Mood for Love. It works through a synchronous compilation of the images and soundtracks from the montage sequences in the film that use the same orchestration of a waltz originally composed by Shigeru Umebayashi for the film Yumeji (Suzuki Seijun, 1991). Watch the video, then read the below, intersecting quotations from written texts about Wong's film. Then repeat.
In In the Mood for Love [Wong Kar-wai] quotes lines from a 1972 novella, Intersection, by Liu Yichang, a Shanghainese expatriate writer living in Hong Kong. [...] The story of Intersection, the Chinese title of which is Duidao, tells of the way in which two characters’ lives – strangers to each other – appear to intersect in ways apparently determined by the nature of the city, and the structure of the novella provides a direct form of inspiration for Wong’s use of the intersecting motif in In the Mood for Love. [...] Wong explains the significance of the title [of the novella on which he based his film, as follows]:
'The first work by Liu Yichang I read was Duidao. The title is a Chinese translation of tête-bêche, which describes stamps that are printed top to bottom facing each other. Duidao centres round the intersection of two parallel stories – of an old man and a young girl. One is about memories, the other anticipation. To me tête-bêche is more than a term for stamps or intersection of stories. It can be the intersection of light and colour, silence and tears. Tête-bêche can also be the intersection of time: a novel published in 1972, a movie released in 2000, both intersecting to become a story of the ’60s. [See Tête-bêche: A Wong Kar Wai Project (Hong Kong: Block 2 Pictures)]'Tête-bêche – the intersecting motif that makes up Wong’s narrative style in other films, notably Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, and Fallen Angels (1995), which are narratives of parallel stories, finally finds its mature expression in In the Mood for Love where the motif assumes a diacritical mode."
[Excerpt from Stephen Teo, "Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", Senses of Cinema, Issue 13, 2001]
[My] synopsis of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (IMFL) reveals three sites of intersection. First, there is the theme – the mood of love is rendered through the intersection of the sanctity of marriage and the restraint of the affair. Second, there is the space – the narrative of the story is structured through Hong Kong’s intersection with its region, including Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand (where the film was shot). Third, there is the time – history is replaced by a Jamesonian display of post-modern historicism, where the past surfaces as an intersection through the aesthetics of style.
[My] essay takes Wong’s evocation of tête-bêche as a point of departure for an exploration of intersection in the film. Two practices of tête-bêche as intersection are evident in IMFL. First, tête-bêche is the intersection of Duidao and IMFL. The film intersects with the novella through the cinema, the space of Hong Kong and China, and popular media from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South-east Asia. Second, tête-bêche resonates with the temporality of Hong Kong before and after 1997, when the British colony returned to its socialist motherland, China. I have written elsewhere about how Hong Kong cinema expresses this temporality of pre-post-1997 as a culture that simultaneously forecasts and recollects. I extend that idea here, to suggest that intersection functions as a point in Hong Kong’s period of transition – both pre-1997 to Chinese rule and post- 1997 in the following fifty years of the unique ‘one country, two systems’ administration. This can be seen in IMFL’s conception and release. The film originated when Wong visited Beijing for a month in 1996, and he gave it the working title Summer in Beijing. He writes: ‘Between Summer in Beijing and In the Mood for Love, eras changed, locales changed, and the music changed. We moved from contemporary jazz to nostalgic waltz.’IMFL is Wong’s first post-1997 film, shot on location in Thailand while filming 2046, a science-fiction film set fifty years after Hong Kong’s 1997 return, highlighting its status as a product of temporal (before and after 1997) and spatial (China, Hong Kong and South-east Asia) intersections. In IMFL, ‘2046’ is the number of the hotel room occupied by Chow.
These two practices of tête-bêche produce intersection as a point in transition characterised by convergence and divergence.
Wong’s quotations inscribe not only local literature and vernacular pulp fiction, but also Japanese film, art and music. ‘Yumeji’s Theme’ is borrowed from Suzuki Seijun’s 1991 film, Yumeji, a bio-fantasy about the turbulent life of Japanese artist Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934), played by popular singer Kenji Sawada, who embodied the romanticism of Japan’s Taisho era (1912–1926) with his hybrid woodblock and art nouveau style, and was renowned for his sketches of nude women.[...]
[Excerpt from Audrey Yue, "In the Mood For Love; Intersections of Modernity" in Chris Berry (ed) Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes (London: BFI, 2003) My emphasis]
Yue suggests that the film’s “historical and cultural mode of production” draws heavily on the ideas in [Liu Yichang's] novel, including the use of music and cross-cultural references. The film also begins and ends with texts adapted from the novel.
To summarise Yue’s arguments about the tête-bêche, the film offers three ‘sites’ of intersection. First, there is the tension between marriage and the possibility of an affair – between ‘sanctity’ and ‘restraint’. Next there is a spatial intersection with Hong Kong as a hub and movement to Japan, Cambodia and Singapore signalled in the narrative as well as the references to Shanghai (and the fact that the film was mostly shot in Thailand). Finally, there is the historical intersection – looking backward and forward.
Much of Yue’s analysis is not easily available to Western audiences without the detailed cultural knowledge needed to decode many of the references. However, other dimensions of the film’s importance are concerned with more current issues, such as the screening of the film at Cannes and its presence alongside several other high profile East Asian films, signalling a general international acclaim. But this too has a sense of ‘intersection’. Following Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ([Ang Lee,] Taiwan/US 2000), a ‘crossover’ film bringing a popular Chinese genre, the wu xia or martial chivalry film, to an international audience, In the Mood For Love’s Cannes Awards replaced Hong Kong’s usual association with action cinema with recognition of its arthouse status. Yet, in some ways Wong Kar-wai was following Ang Lee in re-visiting the film genres he had enjoyed as a child.
At the centre of In the Mood For Love is Maggie Cheung. Born in Hong Kong, schooled in the UK, briefly married to French director Olivier Assayas, she is also perhaps the most famous female face in contemporary East Asian film culture. As a film icon, Cheung is unusual in speaking English, French, Cantonese and Mandarin. In one of her most critically acclaimed roles as 1930s Shanghai melodrama star Ruan Ling-yu in Centre Stage (Hong Kong 1992) she shifts between Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese with ease. [...] But as the camera lingers on her face (also made famous by Lux shampoo adverts) and her sublime body in an ever-changing display of cheongsams, it is worth thinking about how this supremely talented modern woman now represents the changing image of Hong Kong in a world in which, as Yue suggests, there is a convergence of the “Oriental, neo-Oriental and self-Oriental commodification of pan-Asian popular culture”. Here is the final intersection – the carefully composed reflection on the Shanghai/Hong Kong community’s past and and future and the way in which this is viewed across the world.
[Excerpt from Roy Stafford, 'In the Mood for Love [Programme Notes]', Cornerhouse Cinema, July 6, 2007]