In the Mood for a Rewatch

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love

I’ve had the main theme to Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love (2000) stuck in my head for about a week now. The music just pops up, and goes on playing in repeat for hours, until some other thought or activity interrupts. Unfortunately the music lends itself very well to repetition: a rhythmic string plucking, in waltz time, encloses upon the listener, while an isolated violin section lingers first behind the scenes, getting more emphatic towards an apparent climax, only to quiet down again without reaching any logical resolve. The entire time, the plucking goes on interminably, with no variability, either in rhythm or in tone. As a result, when the violin comes back on again, the listener can’t tell if we’re entering a second verse or the track has repeated on itself.

The theme was composed by Japanese musician Shigeru Umebayashi, who would also go on to score Wong’s near-sequel to Mood, 2046 (2004). The score was originally for another film, Seijun Suzuki’s Yumeji (1991). It’s haunting minimalism painfully counterpoints with the dingy, narrow backstreets being navigated by Maggie Cheung, dressed regally in colorful qipao, who’s out to buy noodles. The music, with its claustrophobic repetition, its frustrating and heavy-hearted unresolved highlights the choking, repetitive solitude that the film’s primary characters (the handsome Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Maggie Cheung’s neighbor and not-quite partner) have been condemned into by their corresponding spouses’ infidelity.

Maggie Cheung in the infamous noodle scene, featuring Yumeji’s Theme.

I’m not out to provide a lengthy discussion on how this particular piece of music serves Wong’s vision of the film as a meditation on time and loves lost, but having the music stuck as an earworm did make me want to rewatch the film. This time on a larger, 4K television screen as opposed to the cramped, four-inch LCD panel on the old smartphone where I’d downloaded it to watch during breaks between classes back in college. The film had been recommended to me by a girl I was seeing then, and, feeling it was less of a suggestion than an instruction, I immediately looked into it.

That the film was a breath of fresh air is to say too little. It was a suckerpunch to the gut, a eureka moment even though I’d done little but sit through an hour and a half of some of world cinema’s finest moments. I loved it so much that I’d be crying foul everytime I see a best-films-ever list that didn’t put Mood on number one. So much that up to now that the film – its eye-popping compositions, its haunting moments, and, of course, the music – would continue to resonate even years after a single viewing, even when my feelings towards the person that connected me to it would eventually dwindle and peter out to but a memory, faint and fragmented.

If it stays with you longer than people – that, for me, is good cinema.

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