Wong Kar-Wai – In the Mood for Love: “There were so many things I wanted to change…”

Wong Kar-Wai's cult film returns in a restored version on France 5, and in replay. At the end of 2020, the filmmaker spoke in Première.

We are republishing this long interview with the filmmaker on the occasion of the rebroadcast ofIn the Mood for Love, this Friday evening, as part of the special cycle Cannes festival from France Télévisions. We met the filmmaker at the end of 2020, when he had just finished his 4K restoration.

In the Mood for Love: trailer for the restored version of Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece

Twenty years ago, Wong Kar-Wai reinvented romanticism in cinema with the graceful and modest touches of two lost souls in the Hong Kong of the sixties. His film has now been restored in 4K, and the power of the whole is intact. The Chinese director has of course not forgotten anything. Confined interview.

Friday October 16, 2020. Full house at the Pathé Bellecour in Lyon, on the sidelines of the Lumière Festival, for the screening of a restored copy ofIn the Mood for Love. Masked and cautious audience to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film. Twenty years, an abyss. The world then was that “before”. Before the virus, before the curfew, before widespread confinement. October 16 is already a ” Before “ in itself. Soon, cinemas will be closed for an uncertain duration. Sad times. So there remains love. The one that will tear the screen apart in an instant, one of the finest examples of all. With In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-Wai said goodbye to the 20th century, which saw cinema flourish, magnifying the feeling of love. Classicism and baroque mixed, but already one foot in the 21st century, in this way of offering great readability through images. An apparent purity which prefigures the digital arrival.

As its title indicates, everything here is a matter of atmosphere, tone, rhythm. Working class district of Hong Kong, 1962. Stairs and narrow corridors. The cramped conditions force the bodies to be brought together. The Chow and Chan families move into the same floor of a building. On screen, we will only see Madam Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). She and him. Two beautiful and refined beings. Lonely too. Wong Kar-Wai films a microworld (doorways, pieces of interiors, ends of streets, etc.) a priori frozen and cluttered by a setting that prevents any unfolding. A confinement that evokes the cinema of Max Ophüls where the architecture within the frame itself upsets and ends up carrying the feelings. The rhythm of the film is dictated by a waltz borrowed from the Japanese Shigeru Umebayashi [Yumeji’s Theme].

Hitchcockian vertigo

The music in In the Mood for Love is a voice that carries and accompanies. You'd swear Nat King Cole sings especially for adulterous lovers. The soundtrack will also be a record hit (that was also the world before!). There are also the warm colors which set the frame ablaze like in the melodramas of Douglas Sirk or accentuate the dizziness like Hitchcock.

Wong Kar-Wai's film began life at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2000 with a Best Actor award for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Nothing for Maggie Cheung, beaten by Björk, in the credits of the palmé Dancing in the Dark. There will also be a César for best foreign film and the symbolic milestone of one million admissions in France.

Hong Kong cinema then found a new face, hidden by eternal dark glasses. At the start of the millennium, Asia is forcing European moviegoers to look far to the East. This is where genres are reinvented.

Twenty years have passed. The 62-year-old filmmaker, who is currently filming a series in Shanghai, did not have time to give us an interview “classic”. The exchange, which was not really one, took place by email. The exercise is inevitably frustrating, the reminders impossible, the tone a little abrupt and laconic… But catching the all-too-rare WKW on the fly was not something we could refuse.

Abaca/Ocean Films

Tony Leung proudly poses with his Best Actor award for In the Mood for Love at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

FIRST: In the filmed message you sent to the public Lyonnais, you mention five years work to restore In the Mood for Love. Why did it take so a long time ?
WONG KAR-WAI: First of all, let me show you a photo that will speak more than anything I could tell you [voir ci-contre]. In twenty years, digital technology has replaced celluloid. The way in which laboratories worked on film negatives became obsolete and the conservation of the works became problematic. As a result, finding good equipment for a restoration is very complex. One of the dilemmas I had to overcome with my team was whether I tried to recapture the original form of the film, the one that audiences discovered twenty years ago, or whether I reworked it so that it is consistent with what I initially wanted. There were so many things I wanted to change that I chose the second option, believing it would represent the most insightful insight into the film, a way to improve my work. As the saying goes: ” None no man bathes in the same river and if it is not the same river, it is not so not the same man either. » From the beginning of the process, I carried this idea within me.

Twenty years after the film's release, how do you view it?
I still have the same feeling (“mood”) from his view.

Besides the texture of the image, have you been tempted to change the original assembly?
Throughout the restoration, I spent my time repressing this desire so as not to give in to this temptation.

In the Mood for Love made you a superstar of world cinema. How do you explain it?
The simplicity, purity and therefore universality of the subject were assets. A man, a woman, a secret… It speaks to anyone in the world.

We imagine that you must have received adaptation proposals following to the success of the film… A lot, indeed. Plays, modern dance shows, ballets, exhibitions… Nothing seemed particularly incongruous or bizarre to us. In fact, we were very flattered.

You said it in the preamble to the Lyon screening: “In the Mood for Love is a film about secrecy. » What secret have you never revealed about him?
If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret anymore.

In twenty years, cinema has moved from film to digital. If it was to do again, in what format would you shoot In the Mood for Love ?
Digitally! It would be a real challenge, the same way it was when I shot it on film twenty years ago.

Many legends circulate around the making of the film (absence of script, exhaustion of the actors…) Was the filming so special?
In a way, shooting a film can be like a kind of journey, a fantasy, once you have assembled your cast and crew. But that ofIn the Mood for Love was ultimately similar to many others, with hard work and research writing constant.

Music occupies an important place in the film, from what how did it help you find the right tone?
I usually listen to music on my shoots. This guides the rhythm and atmosphere of the whole thing. The tempo of the music creates a sort of fusion between the camera and the actors, as if they were dancing together. When I turned In the Mood for Love, I reappropriated it Yumeji's Theme which came from the soundtrack of a Seijun Suzuki film.

In The Mood for Love: A mastered camera at the service of a suggested love

Why did you place the action of this romance in the sixties ?

Because at that time in Hong Kong, most people were very conservative and adultery, unlike today, was not accepted at all. There was nothing trivial about it. There was also great promiscuity between neighbors. People shared toilets, for example. It was the last thing you wanted to share with your romantic conquest.

The baroque use of colors is reminiscent of Douglas's melodramas Sirk. Is this an influence that you claim? I really like Douglas Sirk's films, but the filmmaker I had in mind was Alfred Hitchcock.

Two cinematographers are credited in the credits. How was it distributed? their work ?
Chris [Christopher Doyle] shot 80% of the film and set the tone for the whole thing, Mark [Lee Ping-Bin] followed.

At the end of the film, you use a French archive with the visit of General de Gaulle in Cambodia. Why did you choose this document?
In the Mood for Love represents my relationship to postcolonial Hong Kong. The main character of the film played by Tony [Leung Chiu-Wai] works as a journalist throughout Southeast Asia. He goes to Cambodia where the film ends. But this country belonged to France. It was a way of saying goodbye to the colonial era.

Can you tell us what the number “2046” reveals, which is the number from the bedroom of the two lovers and also the title of your next film…
The film was shot after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Chinese authorities then promised not to make any changes for fifty years. So I used the number “2046” for the room as a metaphor around the themes of change and the permanence of things.

There are a lot of connections between your films. Consider your work like a long, uninterrupted poem?
Like a novel, there are, in fact, different chapters that make it up.

When will you shoot in Hong Kong again?
Regardless of where they are filmed, my films are all set and about Hong Kong.

Can we have some info on the series you are currently doing? to realise ?
It is the adaptation of Jin Yucheng's novel, Blossoms [non traduit en français]. The story takes place in Shanghai in the 90s. We spent a lot of time researching details in the city that bore the influence of Hong Kong culture of that era. A very rich and very exciting era, which allowed the prosperity of modern Shanghai.


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