World of Wong Kar Wai
In the Mood for Love
With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema. Joined by such key collaborators as cinematographer Christopher Doyle; editor and production and costume designer William Chang Suk Ping; and actors Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Wong (or WKW, as he is often known) has written and directed films that have enraptured audiences and critics worldwide and inspired countless other filmmakers with their poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory. Whether they’re tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, the seven films collected here are an invitation into the unique and wistful world of a deeply influential artist.
Disc six in Criterion’s World of Wong Kar Wai set presents his 2000 film In the Mood for Love in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, similar to Criterion’s previous DVD and Blu-ray editions for the film. This new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a brand new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Criterion’s old DVD and Blu-ray editions, sourced from an older high-definition master, offered solid presentations, though the film is most certainly in need of an update so I was quite pleased to hear the film would be getting an all-new restoration. Unfortunately, there are a few things I wasn’t particularly thrilled about. For starters, like other films in the set, the film has had a heavy green filter applied to it, altering the colours to a fairly significant degree when compared to the previous presentations. Wong and director of photography Christopher Doyle did make use of green filters in the original photography for a number of their films, starting with Days of Being Wild, with the goal of a monochromatic look, so it wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility that this look was also intended for this film, though never actually made it. In the older presentations, the film’s colour scheme leans more towards what I would call an “autumn” look, with strong reds, oranges, and browns scattered about, along with many touches of green (closer to jade I'd say), giving the film a very distinct look that was also heavily replicated in its marketing. But with this green filter now digitally enhanced, that aspect does become toned down and it’s not as strong, the film now having a more modern look. Looking through the deleted scenes as they are presented here, on the previous Blu-ray and the original DVD, it does look as though a green filter was used during filming… maybe; it could also be the materials themselves are less than ideal or dupes of the original footage. Either way, for this presentation it's clearly a digital enhancement, not a natural byproduct from filming, and it has altered things considerably, where skin tones now take on a green tint. It’s not as heavy/bad as Days of Being Wild, but it makes its presence known.
Admittedly, though I was initially sour on it, I did get used to it as the film progressed, to a degree anyways. This is the first Wong film I saw, and it had a very big impact on me, yet I don’t think that’s changed all that much with this look. I can't say it's the look I would have liked to see for the film, but it’s not a killer… I guess.
Getting past that I would have at least been happy if the picture offered an improvement in other ways, like improving upon the old release’s now obviously dated master, but in that department I was also wee-bit let down. The image is certainly cleaner and less noisy in comparison to the older presentation, and I thought the period costumes and settings looked wonderful (when I could get over the green thing), but there's a bit of a smoothness evident. Grain is there and appears a bit finer than the old presentation, but it does look like it's been scrubbed at a bit, varying from scene to scene, with the image losing a bit of that film texture.
Black levels, at the very least, are fine, and shadow detail is excellent, the green-ish tint not impacting things negatively in this regard. The picture has also been impressively restored, no marks or damage evident. It has its advantages for sure, but it’s ultimately just a bit of a letdown, and I’m admittedly not really sure how to feel about it since this is the one I was looking most forward to. In the end, I may just stick with the old Criterion edition (if also for the reason the packaging of this set makes it a bit cumbersome to get at).
I could be lying to myself, but I did find the 5.1 surround presentation here (delivered in DTS-HD MA) to offer an improvement over the old presentations. I found it more dynamic and it filled out the environment in a more impressive manner, highlighted during some of the rainstorms. The music is rich and clear with terrific bass and range, making nice use of the lower frequency that the original DVD, for whatever reason, didn’t come with. Dialogue is sharp and crisp, while movement and direction is noticeable between the speakers. It’s a really nice, rich surround mix. Not the best one in the set, but an impressive one still.
This disc carries over most of the material found on Criterion's previous Blu-ray edition for the film, starting off with the making-of documentary, @In the Mood for Love. Through interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a lot of clips from the film, this 51-minute documentary covers the film’s production in a fairly extensive manner. We get to see a lot of the development behind the film, which, as one gets to see, was spontaneous and made up as production went on, which apparently proved to be somewhat frustrating to Maggie Cheung. The actors talk about developing their characters, who were changed as production went on, and, as a bit of a treat, we get to see some deleted footage, showcasing how things were constantly dropped by the director. Disappointingly the documentary doesn’t get into the film's lengthy shoot or some of the strife that occurred because of constant changes and reshoots (or for political reasons). The documentary also doesn't come off as engaging or surprising as Buenos Aires Zero Degree, the documentary around Wong's Happy Together. Still, you at least get an idea of the frantic shoot and more of a look into Wong's development process.
Next is a short film (about 2 and a half minutes to be precise) by Wong called Hua Yang de Nian Hua. It's actually a montage of footage from nitrate film stock found at a defunct theater in Chinatown in Hollywood. Wong Kar-wai took footage from these films displaying some of Hong Kong's forgotten actresses. It’s a lovely little tribute and I was surprised by the overall condition of the footage.
The disc ends up dropping from the old disc a 24-minute interview with Tony Rayns, staying in line with the set keeping the academic material minimal (the disc for Chungking Express drops audio commentary Rayns recorded for the film's 2008 edition), but his 2012 interview for the film's soundtrack does get carried over. The short 8-minute discussion features Rayns going over the film’s score and the various songs that appear, giving brief histories and description. The old disc then accompanied this with a 12 cues from the film, though these are now missing for whatever reason. This edition does add a 4-minute music video for the film, directed by Wong and featuring Tony Leung singing.
Also from the old release is footage from a 2000 press conference around its showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, put together by Roger’s Television and running about 43-minutes. Wong was apparently unable to attend so it only features actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. Asked a series of questions by the moderator and members of the press the two talk about the film’s beginnings, the lengthy production, what it was like to work for Wong, their characters, and the overall style. It can be a bit dry (like a lot of press conferences) but worth watching just to get the perspective of the two actors. This conference runs about 4-minutes shorter than the one found on the old Blu-ray and I'm admittedly not sure why.
The same four deleted scenes get carried over, three of which (still) come with an optional commentary by director Wong Kar-wai with English subtitles. The commentary features the director talking about shooting the scenes and why they were altered. The scenes resemble some sequences in the finished film, but do contain moments not found in them. Some of them could even be described as alternate scenes. A couple of the scenes would have appeared more than likely in the mid-section of the film while the other two would have taken place after the film ended, including a sequence where the two main characters meet again (though this scene gets mixed in with the film's actual conclusion). I like the scenes but in some cases I’m glad they were cut as a couple of them would alter the film just enough where it probably wouldn't have had the same impact on me. But again they show just how the director really wings it as he goes. In total they run about 33-minutes.
The disc also drops the various trailers and TV spots found on the old disc, replacing them with a lone trailer promoting the film's new restoration, accompanied by a more modern rendition of the film's central theme music, now complete with some lyrics.
Again, I'm a bit let down that Criterion and Wong decided to drop the more academic material (though they at least keep Rayns' contribution around the soundtrack) and not throw in some new content, outside of the trailer. Still, this disc contains the set's strongest collection of features.
The new presentation is better than Criterion's old one in a handful of ways, but the new colour scheme and some filtering can be a bit off-putting. At the very least it carries over most of the material from the old edition.